The schooner Polar Bear was built for Captain Louis Lane and his associates
in 1911 by the E.W. Heath Company of Seattle. Powered by a three-cylinder gasoline
engine, the 81-ton schooner was modelled after Gloucester fishing schooners. Polar
Bear made two trading voyages to the Siberian Arctic, then was outfitted for
a whaling voyage in 1913. In the heavy ice of 1913, she overwintered near Barter
Island with Elvira and Belvedere, not far from where the two CAE schooners, Alaska
and Mary Sachs, were overwintering. During her second whaling voyage in
1914 (one of the last whaling voyages) she encountered members of the CAE several
In August 1915 Stefansson chartered
Bear from Captain Lane (who had met Stefansson at Banks Island) to
go to Herschel Island and Bernard Harbour. Then, realizing that the steep
charter fees of $1,000 per day were approaching the purchase price,
Stefansson decided to buy the Polar Bear for $20,000. As part of
the deal, Stefansson also bought Gladiator from Fritz Wolki for
$6,000 and gave the smaller schooner to Lane as part payment
for Polar Bear.
"During my absence the Polar Bear has arived and
have been waiting for Mr Stefansan three days the ship is loaded with supplies
and have been bougth by the Commander also another Boat 'the Gladiator' have been
bougth from Capt Volki and 50 more dogs have been bougth from various parties
making us 90 with what 'Wilkins' has got in the North Star. My informant Capt
Lane also brougth me mail from home and several of my relatives in the States"
(Storkersen Diary, August 29, 1915).
"He [Stefansson] also bought the Polar Bear for
$20,000 with the North Star thrown in, besides paying Louis Lane $12,000
for the hire of the boat. Another purchase was the Gladiator, a gasolene
schooner, from Fritz Wolki, for $7,000. The Polar Bear reached Banks Island
on the 3rd day after we left, but V.S. stayed at Baillie Island with the Gladiator
for another 6 days waiting for an Eskimo Alingnak and his wife. When they arrived
at Kellett he transferred to the Polar Bear and as the North Star was
not available Louis Lane had to take the Gladiator to go out with"
(Wilkins Diary, October 29, 1915).
Polar Bear wintered during 1915-1916 at Armstrong Point,
Victoria Island. Stefansson wanted her to winter at Melville Island but she was
unable to break through the ice into McClure Strait.
The next summer Polar Bear was supposed to reach Melville
Island, but again ice conditions did not permit this. The winter of 1916-1917
she actually spent farther south on Victoria Island at Walker Bay. Polar Bear
left Victoria Island in the fall of 1917 with the members of the northern support
parties. They cruised to the Baillie Islands, back to Banks Island, and eventually
connected with the other support party at Kellett Base camp. There Polar Bear
helped pull the restored Mary Sachs off the beach, before Captain Gonzales
ordered the latter to be dismasted, driven ashore, and abandoned.
Stefansson arrived at Kellett Base, purchased the Challenge,
and caught up to Gonzales and the Polar Bear. Gonzales left the
Expedition at Baillie Islands and Polar Bear continued west with
Stefansson assuming command.
At Herschel Island in early September 1917 most of the Inupiat
and Inuit helpers and William Seymour were paid off. Polar Bear proceeded west
with Hadley as master, and Castel and Masik as 1st and 2nd officers. In mid-September
the schooner ran aground on Barter Island, Alaska and spent the winter
there. The next spring Polar Bear was damaged and virtually sunk by flooding
meltwaters. Under the command of John Hadley, she was successfully extracted from
the ice and repaired. It was on 22 July 1918 that Pipsuk,
an employee of the Expedition, was drowned while tending the Expedition's fishing
Polar Bear finally left for Nome in early August. Still under Hadley's
command, she was then sailed to St. Michaels, Alaska, prepared for winter
and repaired so as to be ready for sale (Hadley Diary 1918). She was sold to Jafet
Lindeberg of Nome for $5,000 in 1919.
After leaving the service of the CAE in 1918, Polar Bear again went into
the Siberian trade. There she was encountered again by two former members of the
CAE, August Masik and Arnout Castel. Castel was trapping at the mouth of the Kolyma
River in the winter of 1920-21, and took photos of Polar Bear along with
his smaller schooner Belinda in July 1920 (R.M.Anderson files Canadian
Museum of Nature Archives). Masik
had joined a party of traders who wanted help in salvaging the Polar Bear,
which had run aground at the mouth of the Kolyma River in 1920. He wintered there
in 1921-22, doing some repair work on the schooner and running a trapline under
permit from the Communists (Masik and Hutchison 1935).
Polar Bear was eventually
recovered and used by the Soviets between 1925 and 1928. Renamed Polyarnaya Zvezda
(Pole Star), she was used to move materials and people along the Arctic coast
to the Lena River. She was reported to be unfit for going to sea in 1929 and probably
ended her days at the Lena River (Barr 1988).