|Looking to sea from the deck of the BEAR.|
Undated, original photo
from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The Cutter BEAR
by R. H. (Skipper) Calkins
"From the time I began my career as a waterfront newsman, the historic old cutter BEAR, Uncle Sam's most widely known mercy ship in Alaskan waters, fascinated me. Perhaps it was her barkentine rig which gave her an appearance unlike any of her fleet mates, and her glamourous service as an Arctic whaler, before she was purchased by the US government. For years she was pay dirt as I panned the waterfront in quest for news and feature stories, some concerning the fabulous gold strikes of the Klondyke.
At that time, my rival on the marine beat was a stocky fellow with an English accent who had reached our shores from Australia. He was a pompous individual, a two-fisted drinking man, who made the bar of the old Rainier-Grand Hotel, where many waterfronters gathered, his often-frequented club.
I had bumped the fellow from down-under with a story concerning the purchase of a ship by the Pacific Alaska Navigation Co., and was told he was gunning for me.
One day I picked up the rival sheet and read under screaming headlines what purported to be a story of the rescue of a freighter afire at sea, by the "famed" cutter BEAR. Such extravagant expressions as "a blazing torch", "blistered decks", and "seafaring men periled" were used.
When the BEAR reached Seattle, I was the first man aboard. I questioned every one from the captain to the cook and discovered that my rival on the marine beat had not allowed the lack of facts to spoil a good story. The freighter "rescued" had a bunker fire, the BEAR was nearby and convoyed her to Dutch Harbor where she discharged part of her bunker supplies, reloaded, and proceeded.
However, from that time on, I never missed a sailing or arrival of the BEAR. I made friends of the officers and crew and praised the service of this old mercy ship.