A ''Welcome'' sight may be sinking

By this time next year, you may be looking at one of the familiar ships in West Bay...underwater.

The sloop ''Welcome'' is a re-construction of a 1774 British sailing ship. It was used during the fur trade and to move materials and men during the Revolutionary War.

''Welcome'' was built in 1976 at Fort Michilimackinac for a bicentennial celebration and sailed near the straits. The Maritime Heritage Alliance has owned the sloop for 22 years - bringing the ship in from Cheboygan in 1991.

The MHA has put a lot of work into ''Welcome'' already, and it still needs a good amount (the engines alone are older than the boat) - it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the boat sail-able again.

Because of costs, the MHA has begun looking for options - one of them being to sink the ship and have it become a dive site.

"It's just gotten to be a huge expense for the organization - and we're looking for ways to try to keep her afloat, use her as a land display, or a water display," stated James Graczyk, the Chief Mate of the ''Welcome''. "Currently they're going to plan on removing the engines this year, the mast, everything to make her ecologically sound; get permission from the state of Michigan. We have several other organizations involved, and then we'll sink her."

Because of the extensive amount of work and repairs that would need to be done on the sloop, other preservation groups are not interested in taking ownership.

Graczyk noted that while it's sad, sinking the ship is the least expensive and the most honorable option for a vessel this age.

Below the water-line, ''Welcome" would last another 50 to 100 years without any further work.

Graczyk said they would like to raise money to build a ''Welcome 2'', or something of the sort - a similar boat that would have historic significance.

As of now, it looks like the ship will be sunk sometime next year.

The MHA said there are community leaders on each side of the issue of sinking the ship. If you would like to get involved or for more information, you can contact the MHA.