Recent Expeditions

Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, countless wreck hunters and treasure seekers launched expeditions to find the legendary Westmoreland and her cargo of gold and liquor. Fueled by being mentioned in books like “Long Ships Passing” by Walter Havighurst mentioning the fabulous cargo and local legends of untold riches lying in her hold, Frankfort became the launching point of many a search expedition.

Grand Rapids based wreck hunter Frank Delano looked for the Westmoreland from 1967 to 1971. He received a tip on the Westmoreland’s location from a family that said they had information directly from a mate that was on board the Westmoreland when she sank. Frank used a Bendix sonar unit and his twenty foot boat which he launched at Glen Arbor. During the week he stored his boat in Glen Arbor behind the grocery store. By coincidence, the grocery store owner’s last name was Westmoreland. Frank found and salvaged the Smith Moore, a wooden steam barge which sank in 1889, in the mid-sixties.

Turner

 Kent Belrichard is also known to have launched and expedition to find the Westmoreland in Platte Bay around 1980. Belrichard and Peter Scotland came across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee and spent some time near Frankfort using sonar and diving to try to find the legendary wreck.

Dr. Chuck Feltner and his wife Jeri Baron Feltner are known and respected throughout the Great Lakes shipwreck community. They are noted authors and explorers. The husband and wife team crewed with Tony Gramer of Canton Michigan to look for the Westmoreland in 1981. Dr. Feltner was armed with an array of information from his extensive and thorough research files. The team launched their expedition in late April, the water still being bitterly cold. They headquartered in Frankfort, like so many searchers before them. The used the Feltner’s boat and a bottom recorder to survey the bottom. The team also employed marker buoys to define their search areas, as wreck hunters had done for over a century before them.

Early in the search a large target was located in about 100 feet of water. The two men balked when it came time to dive and before the men could rethink their strategy, Jeri donned her drysuit and jumped in and dove to target and identified it as a rock as big as a house! Dr. Feltner and Gramer were impressed with Jeri’s moxie, but not surprised, as Jeri had proven herself as a masterful diver again and again.

The Feltners and Gramer searched the waters off Empire and the Sleeping Bear for a week before heading back to the Mackinaw area.

In the 1970’s, Great Lakes wreck hunting legend Gene Turner arrived on the scene with crew mate Bill Byers, an accomplished commercial diver. Wrecks found by Turner include the Ironsides, Brighty, Salvor and the Havana. Gene would drive the boat and tow Bill behind the boat on what is called a “planer board”. Bill had a full face mask with communication gear that allowed him to talk to Gene from the depths. This was sophisticated equipment for the time period. Bill says he did see pieces of wood on the bottom, and occasionally would come across underwater hills that were so steep he would have to “climb” them with his hands to keep up with the boat.

Veteran shipwreck hunters Stan Stock and Thaddeus Bedford looked for the Westmoreland in 2002. They found the wreck of the Redfern instead, off Point Betsie, in deep water.

In May of 2006, Bill Prince of Madison Wisconsin, owner and operator of the dive charter boat Nordic Diver, diver, carpenter and businessman, among many other things, and then Jenison Michigan resident Ross Richardson launched an expedition out of Frankfort Michigan. Using a Klein Side Scan Sonar, the lake bottom off Empire and the Empire Bluffs was searched and mapped. The expedition lasted 3 days and ended because of foul weather. One thing that came from that search was the realization of the “mountainous” topography of the lake bottom off Sleeping Bear Dune. It’s as “hilly” underwater as it is above water.

Unfortunately Bill Prince passed away in May of 2008 doing what he loved most, scuba diving. He never got a chance to continue his search

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