A love of classic boats brought together the founders of the Maritime Heritage Alliance in the early 1980s. The primary interest of the fledgling group was to preserve boats from the area that had some historical interest. The first boat constructed by MHA in 1983 was a 20-ft. Mackinaw boat, the Gracie L, which is still maintained by the MHA today and can often be seen at boat shows and festivals in the area.
Encouraged by the success of the first project, the MHA decided to construct something even grander: a 56-ft. replica of the Madeline, a schooner that had great historical significance in the area. After five years of construction, the Madeline was launched in 1990. Today Madeline continues to participate in the Great Lakes Tall Ships Challenge and is enjoyed by young and old at ports of call throughout the Great Lakes each summer. While in home port in Traverse City, Madeline is available to the community for free, Community and Heritage Sails. Madeline also serves as a vessel for crew training, both basic and advanced, where MHA volunteers can learn how to sail a tall ship and venture forth with a dedicated crew to destinations around the Great Lakes.
The armed sloop Welcome was acquired in 1992, and MHA took ownership of this historically relevant replica in 2006. The original Welcome sailed the Great Lakes from 1774 to 1781. Welcome has enjoyed a colorful career as a participant in historical reenactments of famous naval battles that took place on the Great Lakes. Welcome has been gifted to Emmet County for the purpose of becoming a centerpiece in their planned Headlands Dark Sky Park Conference Center. The Welcome was 'Welcomed Home' on November 7, 2014 at a ceremony at the Headlands and was attended by several MHA members.
In 2006, MHA began restoration on the H-28 Arcturos, which was built in 1954 and donated to MHA by Don Coe and Jim Wall of Suttons Bay. The ongoing maintenance of Arcturos ensures that she can continue to grace the waters of Grand Traverse Bay to the delight of her captain and crew.
The cutter Champion represents MHA's visible outreach to the community, especially the youth. The S.A.I.L. Champion program, and the Muster program strive to bring young people together to learn teamwork, trust, and a new skill set for moving forward in their lives. Champion, built in 1968, was donated to MHA in 2008 by Henry Barkhausen of Harbor Springs, MI. His goal was to provide educational sail training opportunities to the greater Northwest Michigan community.
Restoration of the Witchcraft is the current major building project of MHA boatsmiths. Located in the Edwin and Mary Brown Boat Shop (Building 1), the Witchcraft was donated to MHA by the family of her builder, Bill Livingston of Northport, MI in 1982. Built in 1965 and relaunched in 1993 after extensive repairs, the Witchcraft is once again undergoing serious restoration under the capable hands of Bruce Davis, Tom West, and other MHA volunteers.