OCEAN COUNTY – Matt St. Germain admitted he sometimes feels like a big kid when he’s searching for lost riches.
“It reminds me of when I was younger and watched movies like The Goonies,” shared St. Germain, 45, of Manchester. “I feel like I’m playing a part in the Goonies and out looking for pirate treasure.”
While St. Germain has come across some old shipwrecks, his treasure hunts tend to be far more specific. People contact St. Germain for help when they’ve lost a piece of jewelry on land or somewhere at the beach.
“Most of the times, they’re upset because they’ve lost something of huge sentimental value,” St. Germain said. “I’ve also recovered some pieces that were worth quite a bit of money.”
St. Germain employs sophisticated metal detecting equipment, together with his brand of strategic planning. This sometimes entails monitoring tide tables or mapping out already searched locations. Treasure hunting may be St. Germain’s hobby, but it’s one he takes on with persistence and diligence.
When St. Germain was just 11 or 12 years old, his mom picked up a metal detector from the now defunct Radio Shack. St. Germain laughed as he recalled finding coins laying in the sand before his mother’s detector discovered them.
As an adult, St. Germain found he loved spending time with his wife at the beach. However, he could only take laying in the sun so long before he got bored. St. Germain decided to try his hand at metal detecting once again, and purchased an inexpensive model.
“I started enjoying it more and more and found myself buying better ones,” St. Germain said. “About four or five years ago, a good friend of mine got me involved in recovery.”
St. Germain will occasionally charge for travel fees when he hunts for people’s lost valuables. When he recovers items, individuals make their own choices as far as tipping St. Germain for his efforts.
Many times, St. Germain’s true reward comes with knowing he made someone happy or gave them comfort. One of his greatest senses of accomplishment nearly brought tears to his eyes.
Kari Davis, 41, now lives in Waretown and couldn’t say enough good things about St. Germain. His recovery of a small gold charm in a Manahawkin park literally renewed her faith in what it means to believe.
Davis works in a group home in Ocean Acres for developmentally disabled adults. A year ago, she decided to take one of her clients out to enjoy the fresh air.
“Sometimes seeing the environment overstimulates a lot of these types of clients,” said Davis. “We were at the park, and it was time to go home. I just felt so comfortable with this client and we both loved one another. Despite that, something set him off on this one particular day and he attacked me. He just didn’t want to leave the park.”
The altercation resulted in the frustrated young man grabbing his caretaker’s necklace and pulling it off. As Davis desperately did a preliminary search for the lost jewelry, she became dismayed that she couldn’t find it. Davis returned back to the group home feeling despondent and helpless.
“My mother died ten years ago from ovarian cancer,” Davis shared. “I ended up getting her gold charm, which was something she wore as she went through her trials.”
“From the time that she passed until now, I’ve struggled with things in my life,” admitted Davis. “I think a lot of wearing that necklace every single day and never changing it; it’s gotten me through a lot of my trials.”
The loss of the simple gold charm with an angel and the world “Believe” seemed earthshattering. Davis reached out to a friend who she knew had a metal detector, who subsequently referred her to St. Germain.
According to Davis, St.Germain and her friend Scotty O’Shea worked together to find the charm. The treasure hunt proved challenging at first as the metal detector sounded off numerous times with the swing of the coil.
“After he found it, Matt wanted to keep looking for the chain,” Davis said. “I was just so grateful he found the charm. It was all that really mattered.”
Another success story came from Peter Pantina, who said he grew up in Barnegat and now lives in Philadelphia. He and his buddies were at the beach in Seaside when Pantina noticed he’d lost his wedding band.
According to Pantina, he was down the shore for a bachelor’s party and had didn’t think to remove his wedding band before he took a dip in the ocean.
“Normally, my wedding band doesn’t move on my finger,” shared Pantina. “I had just put on sunscreen though and I guess it fell off because it was the right combination of sunscreen and water.”
Pantina said that he was about chest high in the water and diving around where the waves were breaking when he felt the ring slip off. He tried to grab the ring, but it hit his knee and was gone.
A mom on the beach let Pantina borrow her three-year old’s goggles to help him make the search. Approaching his first-year wedding anniversary, Pantina felt awful about the loss.
“I was sure there was no way to find the ring,” Pantina said. “I listened to one of my buddies and decided to give Matt a shot.”
St. Germain told Pantina that he needed to wait until low tide at 7:30 p.m. When darkness hit at 8:30 p.m, Pantina felt certain that St. Germain couldn’t possibly be looking for his ring.
An hour later, St. Germain texted Pantina with a photo of the dark beach and announced plans to return in the morning. Pantina drove to the beach himself that morning hoping the ring washed up.
“As I’m parking, I got a text from Matt,” shared Pantina. “It just said ‘bingo’ with Matt holding up a picture of the ring.”
Many of the people who lose jewelry at the beach are out of towners down for the day or extended periods of time. Veronica and Cagney Smith came to visit friends at their beach house in Lavallette when Cagney lost his gold chain.
“It took me a long time to save up for the chain,” shared Veronica. “We had gone into the water and my husband wound up stepping on a fishhook. The chain literally came off from around his neck. I joked that he probably got hurt so I wouldn’t be upset that he’d lost the chain in the ocean.”
Veronica posted something about the lost chain on an Ocean Beach Alumni group. When someone tagged New Jersey Lost Ring Finder, Veronica didn’t think anything about it. She eventually came in contact with St. Germain.
“He asked me a lot of questions,” Veronica said. “He wanted to know where we were, my husband’s height and how far out my husband was when it happened.”
According to Veronica, St. Germain told her he planned to head out to the area at 1 a.m. She was shocked when she received a text message from the treasure hunter at 3 a.m. of him holding her husband’s chain.
St. Germain admitted he goes out of the nightly excursions alone and takes extreme precautions. He wears a headlamp that bears some resemblance to a miner’s hat. St. Germain said that he makes sure to wear boots to protect his feet.
During St. Germain’s fourth or fifth recovery, he met with a young woman who was only engaged a short time and lost an expensive engagement ring. Family members had rented a house on the border of Beach Haven and Holgate.
“There were about 20 of them and they’d taken colanders from the kitchen,” said St. Germain. “They figured they could use them to scoop up the ring from the water.”
In what was the longest search in one day, St. Germain tried everything. He planned to return at night when no one else was around. Before he left, St. Germain decided to do an eight-foot pathway scan and ultimately did a search by the bottom of the dune.
As he brushed away a small area of soft sand, St. Germain’s metal detector gave out a loud clean signal. The noise proved to be accurate.
“I’m suddenly getting flared in the eyes by the diamond in the sun,” St. Germain shared. “I picked it up and brought it to where everyone else was still down by the water looking.”
The owner of the ring assumed St. Germain was coming back to ask more questions. She broke down in tears when she saw the ring in his hands.
As much as St. Germain loves the hunt, he also revels in the emotional response. Some finds are longer than others – but all come with some kind of reward.