A Three Hour Cruise

By Daniel O’Connell

Originally published in Smoke & Fire News.

Call me Gilligan? I’ve often heard the expression “life imitating art” and perhaps our adventure was close to that well-remembered opening of Gilligan’s Island, except our Minnow came home safe. This last June three of our King’s 8th members signed up for our annual support of the reproduction vessel HMAS Welcome dockside at the Charlevoix Michigan Marina. But before I give you the experiences of  the Skipper, Professor and Thurston Howell the Third, I will give you a few details about the historic HMAS Welcome. (HMAS stands for His Majesty’s Armed Sloop).

John Askins the well-known Merchant at Michilimackinac constructed the historic Welcome as a trading vessel in 1774, she was originally built as a private trading vessel. The Welcome was one of the few vessels of the period able to carry large cargoes and still clear the shallow channels in Lake St. Clair. The vessel’s draft allowed the Welcome to ply the waters between the Mackinac Straits, Detroit and the eastern end of Lake Erie. The Welcome also served Lake Michigan. Of interesting note, Askins was the first person that managed the feat of passing a vessel (Welcome) from Lake Michigan into Lake Superior!

As the American Revolution progressed to threaten the British Great Lakes regions the sloop was purchased by the British military in 1778 and converted into an armed vessel renamed HMAS Welcome. Her crew consisted of twelve sailors and twelve soldiers of the King’s 8th Regiment. In addition to her military service between the Great Lakes posts the HMAS Welcome was also used to transport reclaimed materials from the disassembled Fort Michilimackinac to the new Fort Mackinac being built on Mackinac Island and her logbook of these trips still exists. In 1781 the sloop was lost in a storm most likely in the Straits of Mackinac. (Michigan)

The replica HMAS Welcome was built in the 1970’s in time for the Bicentennial by Mackinac State Parks and eventually fell into disrepair. This lovely vessel might have been lost for all time had it not been for the Maritime Heritage Alliance of Traverse City Michigan. http://www.maritimeheritagealliance.org (see MHA Boats) The MHA acquired what could only be called the ruins of the Welcome and painstakingly fully restored her over two decades. This summer was the maiden or shakedown cruise of the HMAS Welcome. And SHAKE is aptly used to describe our experience in the channel of Charlevoix as we attempted to cruise (under engines) to the Bay Harbor Yacht Club for a promotional fundraising for the Club and the HMAS Welcome.

I’m not sailor, not even a Gilligan for that matter, so I’ll use as good as terms as a soldier serving on the Welcome. As we entered the Charlevoix Channel the drawbridge was raised. We noticed a monstrous tug immediately behind us (aft) pulling a barge headed for Beaver Island. Halfway into the channel we experienced rolling waves, which were timed so perfectly to our length of the Welcome that we began a See-Saw Horse ride. A cleat holding the brace for the Welcome’s boom broke thereby requiring us to lash down the boom. Even lashed the boom flexed up or down depending on the rise or fall of the Welcome and we found ourselves holding up the boom when it wanted to force itself down (threatening to smash the controls) or holding the boom down when the boom wanted to rise so far up that the next downward movement would be ever-so more forceful. All the time, holding the boom from going outboard and perhaps listing  Welcome  dangerously to her side. This was the fun part.

As we cleared the channel (with the tug and barge to our stern) the oscillation of the waves in Lake Michigan increased dramatically over the channel experience.  It was clear we had to turn about and re-enter Charlevoix Harbor….. AFTER the tug and barge cleared our stern. For what seemed an eternity our brave Captains (two of them) and trained sailing crew held the Welcome together as we were savaged by Lake Michigan. When the tug cleared our portside (left) we turned about still facing the rolling and smashing waves. And, we were still holding the boom as aforementioned with even more of our might. With the engines making slight headway we steered towards the rocky entrance of the channel with the waves plowing us too far to port and then too far to starboard. The HMAS Welcome is a tiller steered vessel so as the Tiller Man was ordered “hard port and hard starboard” those of us holding the boom also did an Irish Jig or sorts as we jumped over the tiller each and every four or five seconds!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDsQdKk71Ow

Long story cut short? The very trained and experienced Captains and crew got us into the channel, spectators along the banks called 911 notifying the drawbridge attendant to open the drawbridge for our very unexpected return, just in time. We silently tied up dockside and when the Welcome was secure and inspected for cracks, snaps and leaks, we all consumed well-deserved rations of sudsy refreshment in true nautical fashion, with glazed expressions on our faces. I’m putting in capitals so there is absolutely no doubt: THE HMAS WELCOME IS ONE TOUGH AND PROTECTING LADY. Yes, the Captains and crew saved us all but the stout yet lovely and well-built Welcome protected all of us from danger and quite seriously I offer that there really is some sort of life or persona to a sailing vessel, and this persona was holding us all safely in her arms. That evening we took shore leave in the town of Charlevoix and true to historic sailors and soldiers we celebrated our safe return VERY happily! ..indeed-y-do-we-did.

Get involved with the Maritime Heritage Alliance http://www.maritimeheritagealliance.org HMAS Welcome and help preserve and promote the Great Lakes History of the American Revolution. Get active, visit the MHA website and learn more about HMAS Welcome. D.O.

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