TRAVERSE CITY — A dilapidated replica of a centuries-old British sailing ship could be sitting on the bottom of Grand Traverse Bay next year should no better options arise.
The Maritime Heritage Alliance board is seeking a state permit to sink the deteriorating 55-foot-long ship, the Welcome, in the bay. The group also asked the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve Council to find a place for it on the bay floor, said Rod Jones, Maritime Heritage Alliance president.
Sinking the ship would serve as a "dignified" burial for the deteriorating ship and as a diving attraction should state officials approve of the scuttling.
The lengthy permit request won’t be ready to file until winter and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources probably won’t make a decision until spring. Meanwhile, MHA will continue exploring other options, Jones added.
The 1970s-built replica measures 16 feet across its beam. It was built by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission at Fort Michilimackinac for the U.S Bicentennial celebration in 1976.
The MHA has owned and maintained the vessel for 22 years and spent 15 of those years trying to rebuild and repair rotting sections.
“We’re ready to part ways with it and we’re looking for options,” Jones said. “Putting it on display onshore won’t work. It’s rotting beyond repair, the engine leaks, and its prop shaft is bent. Our last option is to sink it so that it can be used as a dive attraction. It’s not a favorite option.”
Discussions about the Welcome’s fate have been an emotional topic for the MHA’s members, Jones said.
“I was there when we began rebuilding it,” said Laura Quackenbush, a local historian and long-time member of the group. “I have an emotional investment in wooden boat preservation, but I also know that wooden boats have a lifetime. Maybe sinking her is the best option. It will give her a new life and keep her story alive.”