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La Salle's prime focus in 1678 was building Le Griffon.
Arriving at Fort Frontenac in late September, he had neither the time for nor the interest in building a vessel at Fort Frontenac to transport building materials, some of which he had recently obtained in France, to a site above Niagara Falls where he could build his new ship.
Somewhere near present-day Toronto they were frozen in and had to chop their way out of the ice.
From there they struck out across the lake toward the mouth of the Niagara River.
The accounts agree that this little vessel played a part in the building of Le Griffon.
On November 18, 1678, after just over a month of preparations at Fort Frontenac, La Salle dispatched Captain La Motte and Father Louis Hennepin together with 15 men and supplies in a vessel of 10 tons.
The ship landed at a location on an island in Lake Michigan where the local tribes had gathered with animal pelts to trade with the French.
Their inefficiency at beating to windward made them impractical as sailing vessels, and they were not very safe in open water.
James Mansfield says that in the fall of 1678, La Salle built a vessel of about 10 tons burden at Fort Frontenac and that this vessel, named Frontenac, was the first real sailing vessel on the Great Lakes; specifically, on Lake Ontario (which some at the time called Lac de Frontenac). There is reason, however, to question his assertion.
Evidently, they spotted the wreck in 2011, but waited until 2014 to reveal the discovery of what some call the "holy grail" of Great Lakes shipwrecks while they consulted experts.
There are "no cables, no cabin, and no smokestacks," no mechanical devices of any kind, and a carving on the front of the ship strongly resembles 17th-century French carvings of griffins, Dykstra says.