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AFSC Historical Corner:  Grizzly Bear, Black Bear & Brown Bear - "Bear" Boats

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
The Albatross, 1882
Early BOF Patrol Boats
FWS Vessels
Newer Research Ships
Pribilof Tenders
Launches/Small Craft
Charters/Other Boats
Vessel Links

Several boats designed by the noted naval architect Harold Cornelius Hanson (Seattle, Washington) were constructed initially for the federal Alaska Game Commission (AGC) in 1934. These included the Red Fox, White Fox, Black Fox and the 30-foot Cross Fox. In addition were the three "bear" boats described here, which eventually went to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The Grizzly Bear,  1942 - 1965

Grizzly Bear
The FWS vessel Grizzly Bear, FWS 1900.  Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

The 58-foot wooden cabin cruiser Grizzly Bear provided many years of valuable service for both the Alaska Game Commission and, beginning in 1944, with the Fish and Wildlife Service, where she was also identified as the FWS 1900.

Grizzly Bear  Details
Year built: 1934
Location built: Seattle WA
Builder: Schertzer Boat & Mach. Wks
Designer: H. C. Hanson
Other id: FWS 1900
#583647 (USCG ID)
Length: 58'
Breadth: 14'
Draft: 6.2' - 9.6'
Tonnage (tons): 45 gross, 31 net
Engines: 90 hp Washington diesel,
1960: 160 bhp Gray
Marine, G.M. diesel 671
Speed: 9 knots (avg.)
Range: 700 nautical miles
Known skippers: Sandy Matson  (ca. 1948-53)
Cletus Groves  (1955)
Arthur H. Kassner  (1950s)
Karl Alstead  (until 1967)
Fisheries service: 1942-54  (FWS)
1956-64  (USFWS)
Disposition: transferred to ADFG

The Grizzly Bear was launched on 10 November 1934. Other than the oak beams and ironbark sheathing, she was built with fir throughout. Her engine was a 4-cycle 90-horsepower Washington diesel, which was later replaced in 1960 with a new 160 bhp Gray Marine, G.M. diesel 671.

Located in the AGC vessel's deckhouse were the pilothouse, captain's stateroom, galley and messroom. Accommodations for four men were below deck. The wireless radio room and combined warden's stateroom/office were aft of the engine rooom. A York ice machine was situated in the engine room which contained an oil-burning heater providing piped hot water to all crew quarters. On the aft deck was carried a Tregoning tender.

In July 1941, the Grizzly Bear was used to transport naturalist and author, Stanley G. Jewett, during his trip through Southeast Alaska in which he studied birds and collected specimens. Around 1942-43 the boat was transfered to the Fish and Wildlife Service and given the added "FWS 1900" designation.

Note:  Known sources conflict as to when the FWS actually acquired the Grizzly Bear.  "Merchant Vessels of the U.S. 1943" (U.S. Bureau of Customs) lists the boat being with the AGC, however, a FWS "Official Log (St. Paul) Funter, Alaska, 1942" makes reference to the "FWS 1900 (Grizzly Bear) for 19 October 1942.

  Grizzly Bear
The Grizzly Bear at the Little Port Walter facility in Alaska.
Auke Bay Laboratories photo.

Grizzly Bear photos in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery
Several years later the Grizzly Bear and three search planes, were dispatched to Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska to rescue FWS biologist, Robert Meeks, who was the lone survivor of a twin-engine Grumman Goose plane crash on 1 September 1954. The incident claimed the lives of five FWS employees, including the Assistant Fisheries Administrator for Alaska, George B. Kelez.

In 1965, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) acquired the Grizzly Bear from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The ADFG noted that the boat performed well in the inside waters of Alaska, however, sailing in heavy seas created wet and unsafe conditions on deck and difficulty in securing loads from washing overboard.

The Grizzly Bear was stationed at Ketchikan, Alaska, in 1973, when the ADFG believed her deteriorated condition warranted a newer and larger replacement. In June 1976, she was auctioned by the State of Alaska at Juneau. The most recent reference to the Grizzly Bear is a U.S. Coast Guard vessel documentation issued in December 2006.

The Black Bear,  1944 - ?

Black Bear  Details
Year built: 1934
Location built: unknown
Builder: unknown
Designer: H. C. Hanson
Other id: FWS 7501 ?
Length: 48'
Breadth: 12.6'
Draft: 5'
Engines: 125 hp diesel
Speed: 10 knots
 Known skipper: Doyle Cissney  (1952) 
Known service: 1944-57
Disposition: unknown
  Black Bear
The FWS boat Black Bear at Petersburg, Alaska.
E. P. Haddon, photographer.  Archival photo by
Mr. Steve Nicklas, NGS/RSD.  NOAA Photo Library.

Little is known about the Black Bear (FWS-7501?). Launched in the fall of 1934, it appears she was acquired by the FWS around 1944.

The double-ender was the smallest of the three "bear" boats measuring 48 feet in length. She was designed with a flush deck with the pilot house sinking into the deck about one foot aft. Her backbone was built of fir while the stem and stern were of hardwood.

In the spring of 1957, the operation of the Black Bear was turned over to FWS staff biologist Dr. Norman Wilimovsky, of the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Research Group, for use with his program. In preparation the boat underwent major renovating and remodeling, which included the installation of a new engine, winches and electronic gear.

Black Bear photos in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery.

Brown Bear  >>>

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