The Ocean Technology Foundation will launch its fifth expedition later this summer to search for the wreck of John Paul Jones' Revolutionary War ship the Bonhomme Richard in the North Sea.
The two-week expedition may provide the best chance yet to find the famed ship off the northeast coast of England as the U.S. and French navies are providing state-of-the-art sonar systems, an oceanographic survey ship, a mine hunter, underwater vehicles and divers.
"This is the latest and greatest equipment," Jack Ringelberg, president of the foundation, said Monday.
Previous expeditions have eliminated a 400-square-mile area where the ship was thought to be while additional historic data and information about how it may have drifted before it sank have refined the search area.
And unlike past expeditions, which either surveyed possible wreck sites or explored targets, this venture will have the capacity to do both. The exact dates of the trip were not released.
Project Manager Melissa Ryan said Monday this is the best attempt to locate the wreck since 2008, when on its last voyage the Groton-based U.S. Navy nuclear research submarine NR-1 explored many of the wrecks that sonar had previously located. The NR-1 found that they were more modern vessels.
This has led researchers to conclude that the wreck will likely not be in one piece but possibly spread across the ocean bottom - and maybe underneath it. Special sonar equipment on the upcoming expedition can penetrate the ocean bottom.
"The Bonhomme Richard is like a proverbial needle in a haystack," Ryan said. "But the good news is that the haystack is considerably smaller than it was five years ago when our surveying began."
Ringelberg said the ship was thought to be carrying a large load of iron ballast that could help in locating and identifying the wreck. The foundation also knows the foundry markings of the ship's cannons.
Accompanying the searchers this time will be four midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy who took an online course Ryan taught about searching for historic shipwrecks using the Bonhomme Richard as an example.