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.”
Other boat preservation groups also are not interested in the Welcome because the cost of extensive repairs it needs.
One glimmer of hope for the replica may be an email sent to MHA last week by Steven Brisson, deputy director of Mackinac State Historic Parks. Brisson asked about the boat’s plight but said nothing about rescuing it or funding repairs, Jones said.
The Mackinac Island Commission, which oversees the historic parks group, has said in the past that it doesn’t want the boat back.
Sinking the Welcome appears to be the most fitting option for Jones to preserve the sloop for the longest time and also give it a “dignified end.”
“It’s better than cutting her up and taking her to the landfill,” he said.
The Welcome was built and rigged only for dockside display and was never meant to sail anywhere, he said. Nonetheless, MHA has spent a lot of money trying to make the ship seaworthy.
“It was in Cheboygan with a big hole in it when we got it,” Jones said. “It had a bad deck, which was causing it to deteriorate more. Personally, I think it’s better to build a new boat. Once they go so far, you’re only chasing your tail.”
The original Welcome was constructed as a private trading vessel in 1774 at Fort Michilimackinac by British Highlands Regiment member John Askins.