Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 18, 2013

Editorial: Life on bottom would beat rotting at dock

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — For a boat that was never much more than a birthday attraction, the Welcome has stayed afloat a lot longer than the people who built it may have thought — and certainly longer than they made plans for.

The Welcome, a replica of a 1774 fur trading-era sloop of the same name, was built in the mid-1970s in the Mackinac Straits area as part of the nation’s 1976 Bicentennial celebration.

The Maritime Heritage Alliance, a Traverse City-based boat preservation group, took custody in 1992 and ownership in 2006.

Now, time and the elements have taken their toll, and the Heritage Alliance is thinking about sinking the Welcome in West Bay as an attraction for scuba divers, a popular idea in the dive community.

There don’t appear to be many other options. There’s a lot of rotten wood all over the boat, and so far no one has stepped up to promise the big bucks it would likely take to get it ship-shape again — or even keep it afloat.

The Mackinac Island Commission has said it doesn’t want the boat back — but then again maybe it does.

“Currently, we’ve not offered to take it back, but we’re discussing it internally as an option,” Steven Brisson, deputy director of Mackinac State Historic Parks marketing and programs, said. “We don’t have a plan for it, but some staff here feel it would be nice to find options other than sinking,” he said, such as a dry dock display.

That’s not really helpful. The parks don’t have a plan, but maybe they will ... someday. In the meantime, the Heritage Alliance is left with the job — and expense — of making sure the ship doesn’t simply go down on her own.

Local divers say they’d love to see the Welcome at the bottom of the bay.

Doug Bell, owner of Scuba North, Traverse City’s only dive shop, said he “wholeheartedly” supports the sinking. He said it would be best if the boat was accessible from shore for all levels of divers. Alisa Kroupa, president of the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve, said it should be accessible to most divers, who are certified to swim to 70 feet.

The Heritage Alliance may seek a state permit to sink the boat next year.

Unless someone finds a buried treasure, the Welcome’s fate will likely depend not on what divers or preservationists want, but money. And that’s a dim future indeed.

Sitting on the bottom as a diving attraction would be a better end than rotting at a dock, wet or dry.