|Cris Kohl and Joan Forsberg|
The Wreck of the Griffon - The Greatest Mystery of the Great Lakes - an in print wiki for wreck wonks, historians, divers and mystery lovers
Book Review By Stephen Weir - published in July issue of Diver Magazine
Just prior to the publishing of their new book about the 17th century barque Griffon, authors Cris Kohl and Joan Forsberg, asked famed writer and wreck hunter Clive Cussler what he knew about the missing Great Lakes’ ship. “The Griffon -- isn’t that the shipwreck that somebody’s been finding every ten minutes?” he asked the pair.
Cussler nailed it in 11-words. It took Kohl and Forsberg a little longer. The Wreck of the Griffon: The Greatest Mystery of the Great Lakes, is a 224 page printed Wiki (complete with over 200 colour and black and white images) about the ship, the men who built her, the crew who lost her and the legion of divers who say they have found her!
Cris Kohl, a former wreck columnist with Diver Magazine, has been writing about Great Lakes shipwrecks for over 40 years. He and his wife Joan Forsberg, the past president of the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago, have written 14-books, numerous documentaries, magazine articles and published a wall of maps about freshwater shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.
The Griffon is the oldest shipwrecks in the upper Great Lakes, and, according to Kohl and Forsberg, the remains of the seven-cannon 45-ton wooden ship have been reported found at least 22 times since she went missing in 1679 in Lake Michigan, or Lake Huron, or was it in Georgian Bay?
“In the year 1679, the first ship (the Griffon) to sail on the upper Great Lakes disappeared with her entire crew and valuable cargo of furs,” write Kohn and Forsberg. Built by the explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, or simply La Salle (1643-1687), “its loss nearly ruined him. On its maiden voyage, this ship was the very first to sail across Lake Erie, up the Detroit and St Clair Rivers, across Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.”
On its way back to Niagara from Lake Michigan, the ship and its cargo disappeared, and ever since then for wreck hunters, the game has been on.
To truly understand the historical importance of this ship, Kohl and Forsberg, give readers an extensive history lesson about the early French explorers and settlers of Upper Canada. They draw on diaries and personal letters written by La Salle, crewmembers and Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan missionary and chronicler of de LaSalle’s adventures.
Kohl and Forsberg recreate the world of 1679 as they take reader is taken through the construction of La Salle’s small ill-fated fleet of wooden sailing ships including the Griffon. We learn how the Great Lakes region was a land filled with the riches that Europe so dearly needed. Yet for La Salle the drive to discover and explore saw him send his fur-filled Griffon from Lake Michigan to Niagara with a mere crew of six, while he continued by canoe, to explore the Lake Michigan region.
Although he tried, La Salle was never able to reconnect with the Griffon, her cargo and the crew.
The new book describes in detail the ongoing search for the remains of that ship, from La Salle’s days to the present. There have been finds: bodies in caves, French coins, and the remains of sunken wood ships in various Great Lakes! The authors document 22 different “discoveries”, none of them definitively the missing barque.
Four of the most recent discoveries - the Griffon Cove Wreck (near Tobermory), the Mississagi Straits Wreck (Manitoulin Island), Poverty Island Wreck in Lake Michigan and the last , also in Lake Michigan – are examined in detail.
The authors’ mythbust most of the finds. However the latest has them cautiously optimistic. Two boaters named Frederick Monroe and Kevin Dykstra, “both Michigan scuba divers, were out on the lake in 2011 doing a side scan search for something completely unrelated. Suddenly, they got a ‘hit’ on their sonar -- there was definitely something down there that looked intriguing. What they had found was definitely a shipwreck and, to them, it was obviously very old (the reasons they know it is very old are being kept under wraps for a while longer).”
If this is the Griffon, the authors predict that Great Lakes marine history will get an “unmistakable shot in the arm”.
And, if it isn’t The Great Lakes’ First Shipwreck? They believe the search will continue. “Because it’s a mystery! The themes of treachery, storm, murder, and Indian attack make it a bona- fide, old-time, swashbuckling, seafaring yarn, passed down for hundreds of years. “