Discovering the Westmoreland Treasure Ship

Westmoreland ship


By Elizabeth Edwards - My North

Northern Michigan: Over 150 years after she went down, shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson found Lake Michigan’s legendary treasure ship, the Westmoreland. Now What ?

On Father’s Day 2010 Ross Richardson indulged his obsessive search for a shipwreck he refers to almost exclusively (and with a hint of passion in his voice) as She.

As evening set in after a family outing, he put his 1984 20-foot Bayliner Trophy hardtop into Lake Michigan in Glen Arbor and ran it 16 miles through darkening waters until he’d rounded the glowing face of Empire bluffs.

Offshore from the mouth of Benzie County’s Otter Creek and under a star-spattered sky, Richardson maneuvered his boat through the now black waters in a perfect mile-grid pattern.

All the while, he studied the screen of his Hummingbird side-scan sonar, alert for any marks on the screen that could signal traces of the propeller steamer the Westmoreland—a ship perhaps not seen since she sank in a snowstorm in 1854.

A ship that legend has it went down with a winter’s pay for the entire garrison stationed at Fort Mackinac—gold pieces that would be worth millions today.

A ship whose whereabouts is one of Lake Michigan’s great unsolved mysteries.

That short list also includes the whereabouts of the 17th-century Le Griffon—the first European sailing ship on the Great Lakes, and the Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 that disappeared in 1950 with 58 people onboard.

All three wrecks have been doggedly pursued since they were lost, and sometimes hunters become so obsessive their names become intertwined with the wreck’s narrative.

To wit, Le Griffon and Robert Libert, who believes he found LaSalle’s ship off the coast of Charlevoix in 2001 after searching 30 years, and then brashly involved the French government in his tangle with the state of Michigan over salvage rights.

Then there’s adventure novelist Clive Cussler—the mind behind his novels’ hero, suave, craggily handsome Dirk Pitt—who uses the organization he founded and funds, National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA), to mount annual searches for Flight 2501.


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Northern Michigan shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson treasure ship the Westmoreland