Wednesday, July 19, 2006

 

Lake wreck centuries old, explorer says

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The Windsor Star
July 19, 2006


An underwater explorer searching for the Griffon -- the "Holy Grail of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes" -- says tests of a wreck in northern Lake Michigan show it could be the same age as the French ship, which disappeared in 1679.

Based on tests of the wood "there is evidence down there that suggests it's an extremely old vessel the age period of the Griffon," Steve Libert, the 52-year-old who discovered the wreck, said this week after a news conference in Michigan.

If it is the Griffon, it would be an amazing discovery with international interest.

The Griffon was built by French explorer and fur trader Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. Essex County's LaSalle was named after him. He sailed much of the Great Lakes, discovered the mouth of the Mississippi and named its basin area Louisiana for King Louis XIV.

The Griffon was lost with its load of furs in the fall of 1679 as it left the Green Bay area on a return voyage to Niagara. LaSalle wasn't on the ship and later searched for it without success.
Libert, an amateur marine archeologist from Virginia, said it became the first decked European vessel to sink in the Great Lakes.

He's guarded in what he says about his 2001 find but says he has a preliminary scientific report that shows the site is worth more investigation. He doesn't want the location known because the wreck is at the centre of a legal dispute.

Libert, who said he looked for the Griffon for 28 years before literally bumping into what he believes is the ship's bowsprit, said he has salvage rights. He's been involved in a legal battle with the State of Michigan for years. He said Michigan is claiming it owns the land and the wreck but Libert says France would own the wreck.

So far, he said tests have shown the wreck isn't modern, but to prove it's the Griffon he needs something more, such as a carved Griffon -- a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle on a lion's body -- or a cannon with a King Louis XIV insignia.

But more searching and testing could be held up by the legal battle.

John Karry, a Kingsville diver and chairman of Leamington's ErieQuest committee that promotes diving at local shipwrecks, searched for the Griffon himself about a decade ago near Manitoulin Island. He said if the latest claim can be confirmed by an independent expert, it would be a tremendous discovery for Canada, France and the United States.

"That's the Holy Grail of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes."

But Karry has his doubts, noting three other wrecks that people thought were the Griffon.

While some people think the wreck is near Manitoulin Island, Libert said the ship may not have made it that far. He said his research leads him to believe the Griffon anchored and sank in a storm around what used to be called the Huron Islands.

He said he thinks a reference to the Huron Islands point to ones called that are included in old charts of Lake Michigan, not islands in Lake Huron.


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