From 1881-1884 the famous, and ultimately tragic, Greely Expedition sailed up into the difficult conditions of the Canadian Arctic waters to establish a research station and to collect weather observations. Due to the harshness of the winter conditions there during that time, the expedition would eventually be frozen in the ice and would ultimately run low on food and supplies. Various attempts to resupply and rescue the Greely Expedition failed to get to them because of those extremely harsh conditions around Ellesmere Island’s Lady Franklin Bay in 1883 and 1884. Only recently have researchers been able to find what they think is the wreckage of the Greely expedition ship in Lady Franklin Bay.
As a result of the unusually extreme conditions, the men on the expedition began to die from disease and starvation. Two Revenue Cutter ships would be sent on a rescue mission in 1884. They were the U.S. Revenue Cutter (USRC) Bear, which had been purchased by the U.S. Navy in 1883, and the USRC Thetis. In 1884, the USRC Bear, under the command of Captain Winfield Scott Schley (who would later become a hero in the Spanish American War), along with USRC Thetis, were sent up to the Arctic to find and to rescue the Greely Expedition. They sailed north to Greenland and then on to the area around Ellesmere Island. On June 22, 1884, USRC Bear would become world famous for having found and rescued the six remaining survivors of the Greely Expedition.
USRC Bear would go on to serve in the now US Coast Guard for another 41 years saving lives and patrolling the Arctic waters. She was a duel steam-powered and sailing ship built with six-inch thick sides. She is considered a forerunner to our modern ice-breakers and is described as “probably the most famous ship in the history of the Coast Guard.”
USRC Bear was eventually sold to a Philadelphia businessman who had plans to turn her into a museum and restaurant to be located on the Philadelphia waterfront. On March 19, 1963, while Bear was being towed by the tug Irving Birch to its new berth, a gale struck them off of Nova Scotia and severed the tow line between her and the tug and USRC Bear was lost at sea.
In 2019 a combined operation by NOAA Ocean Exploration and NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Program and the USCG, working, ironically, off of the current USCG medium-endurance cutter, USCG Bear, was searching for the lost USRC Bear. They found two tantalizing possible targets about 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Earlier this year they returned to that site with an advanced underwater, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and identified the remains of the old revenue cutter on the seafloor. The announcement was made by U.S. Coast Guard, Rear Adm. Nancy Hann.
The USRC Bear occupies a legendary place in USCG history. But up until now she could only be remembered as lost at sea. We are very happy that this very famous United States Coast Guard Revenue Cutter has been found. You can see the picture below.