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Points North

Charlevoix explorer says he’s found the ‘Holy Grail’ of Great Lakes shipwrecks

There are thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Today on Points North, the story of the Holy Grail of shipwrecks: Le Griffon.

The Griffon was the first European ship ever to sail the Great Lakes. In September 1679, French explorers loaded the boat with furs and left Green Bay. They hadn’t sailed far before a storm picked up. The Griffin was last seen struggling off Washington Island and was never heard from again.

For more than 300 years, the mystery of The Griffon’s location has hung there. Steve Libert caught the bug pretty early on. He’s been looking for the Griffin his entire adult life.

“I’ve spent 40 some years on location,” says Libert. “I’ve been in storms … I’ve been up there under ice, in gail force winds.”

About 20 years ago, Libert and his group Great Lakes Exploration found a beam of wood at an undisclosed location at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Libert was certain it was the bowsprit of The Griffon. But when a team of archaeologists dug it up, the beam wasn’t attached to anything; there was no ship hull there.

French and American scientists studied the beam and couldn’t agree. The French still thought it was part of The Griffon. The Americans claimed it was a piece of old fishing gear. So, since 2013, this beam has sat in a cold water holding tank with a solution of boric acid and sodium to preserve it.

In 2021, Libert made a new discovery while scanning Google Earth for the wreckage. He found the hull of a ship right where he thought The Griffon had sunk centuries ago. Now he waits in limbo with the state. He needs its permission to dig it up, but he’s hesitant to tell officials the location.

“Once you turn that over, everything I have becomes the state property,” Libert says. “I’m not going to give that information up. I’ve got 42 years at this.”

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio and has managed the news department since 2001. For more than a decade, he hosted the weekly program
Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.
Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.