Posts Tagged ‘Le Grifon’

Loose ends: Griffon, Miami, and more

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 08 2013

Lots of new information coming to light on a number of topics:

 

First, the submarine MIAMI, having hung in there for so long, will hang no longer.  Late last year, the Navy announced plans to repair and put MIAMI back out to sea, even if, as many supposed, they would have to partially cannibalize her decommissioned sister MEMPHIS, also in Portsmouth’s Shipyard, to do so.  MIAMI’s arsonist, Casey James Fury,, set the fires so he could go home due to anxiety about his girlfriend.  While he set the initial fire in the Crew’s Quarters, it soon spread to the Torpedo Room, Control Center, Auxiliary Machine Room, and Sonar Room.  These rooms are highly complex with thousands of components and interrelated and interconnected systems.  Fixing her would amount to gutting the MIAMI and rebuilding her most central and sensitive rooms.  That being said, MIAMI still had at least ten years left on her nuclear fuel, and until the fire, was in fairly good repair.  Moreover, submarines are under more demand than ever, but new boats cannot be built at the same rate as the older girls are scheduled to be decomissioned.

Cross section of an LA-class submarine (like Miami) with the fire damages highlighted. This may or may not reflect all the damage Miami suffered since some damage might be classified. Still, it’s a decent schematic of where most of her damage likely lies. It’s a large graphic, so click on it if you want to see it full-size.

So back in 2012, shortly after the fire, the Navy weighed the extra costs of repair against the cost of scrapping, against the personnel costs of keeping other submarines at sea longer while MIAMI holds her place in a drydock long after she was supposed to…on and on and on.  The submarine force is a thing of precision, in more ways than one.  Each sub’s crew, schedule, maintenance is all based on the movements of her sisters worldwide, all of which has to dovetail with the surface fleet as well.  MIAMI’s longer tenure in her drydock affected the next submarine scheduled to have maintenance in that drydock, which affected her mission schedule, which may have forced other shipyards to pick up extra jobs, or shuttling extra jobs, also forcing another submarine to pick up MIAMI’s future missions, while screwing up maintenance, crew rotations, and missions all over the place.  It was a nightmare, and each ripple of change had costs.

But submarines form a good portion of the backbone of the Navy, and many believe we need as many submarines as we can safely keep afloat.  All things considered, MIAMI was best put back to sea, and plans went forward.

Then this little thing called the sequestration happened.  MIAMI times ten.

Now the Navy had to reconsider MIAMI’s status in light of less money.  Then, more news came in–cracking.  In a highly controlled environment, like a submarine underwater, the slightest crack in any part of hull, piping, or componenent can end a submarine’s life, and that of her crew.  In 1963, a faulty pipe in the THRESHER likely lead to her sinking and the loss of her crew.  In MIAMI, cracking was now reported in pipes in air, hydraulic and cooling systems which run through the torpedo room and an auxiliary machine room.  More repairs.  More time.  More money.  More potential problems yet to be uncovered.  For every day MIAMI was in drydock, another surface ship or submarine may have to wait longer for necessary repairs and crew rotation.

According to the Navy, it was a hard choice, but now, instead of repairing a submarine, Portsmouth Shipyard will now scrap her, a process that requires fewer workers, so layoff processes are now in consideration.  The money that had been earmarked for her repairs, both this year and next, will be re-allocated to the standing fleet for their maintenance and upgrades.

After a long and respectful career, most of which is still buried under Top Secret classification, the MIAMI will be scrapped where she stands, in the dockyard where she burned.

She becomes the first submarine as well as the first nuclear powered naval vessel to be lost in a naval shipyard.

Godspeed MIAMI, you and your crew served your country well, and we thank you.

 

Following in MIAMI’s footsteps are nine submarines in various stages of construction: form the MINNESOTA, due to be commissioned in less than a month, to the ILLINOIS, WASHINGTON, COLORADO, INDIANA, SOUTH DAKOTA, and DELAWARE….all ordered and named, but whose keels are not yet laid.  Currently, construction takes sixty-five months, start to finish (Construction has likely started on some of these submarines, if not all, but the keel has yet to be laid), and is soon due to constrict further to 60 months.  (Way down from the 84 months a Virginia-class sub used to take!). Still, that’s five years from start to finish. MIAMI’s loss will be felt.

 

As I’m trying to tie up loose ends, I’ll touch on the Griffon’s “wreck”.  After delving 20 feet through Lake bottom, the surface sonar detected and was thought to potentially be the Griffon was…bedrock, so no ship there.  That doesn’t mean she’s not out there, nor that the “bowsprit” is fake.  It may indeed be a part of the Griffon, and the rest of her may be nearby–or may be broken up.  It’s possible, if she really did sink in that general area, that she broke up, either in the process of sinking, or over the intervening centuries.  So she may be found yet.

The “Bowsprit” had to be taken care of.  The archaeologists had two choices: take it or leave it.  Taking it would be problematic, as the State of Michigan claims ownership of the “bowsprit” and issues 30-day “leases” on it for research purposes.  Leaving the legal nightmare that is likely coming up behind, the bowsprit itself will need highly technical conservation to prevent its decomposition, and allow for study.  (See Development’s in the Griffin’s Dig, near the photo of the Mary Rose’s conservation for more information of what conservation will entail) Leaving it, however, was also problematic, as the bowsprit could be stolen by someone or even lost once again under Lake Michigan’s sands.

Not shockingly, they took it.  I hope we’ll hear more about any forthcoming tests or results on it.  Preliminary tests already suggest it’s the right age.  If more tests are done that can conclusively prove it’s from the late 17th century, then whatever that big stick is, it’s most likely part of the Griffon.  A small step forward, is a step forward!

Below, see a half-hour documentary made on-the-ground as it were about the recent Griffon dig and what they found.  Really interesting.  Locally produced.

Shipwrecked: The Search for Le Griffon

That’s all for right now.  But news is still forthcoming: MINNESOTA is due to be commissioned soon, the submarine command has transferred, and underwater archaeology is always changing and revealing new things!

Military Times Article about Miami’s scrapping decision

Article about Miami’s new damage

Has La Salle’s Legendary Griffon been found?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 18 2013

One of the most unique shipwrecks in the world may be on the verge of coming to light.  And being a native Michigander some four generations back, I’ve always heard about “The Griffin” and her wreck.  Part legend, part haunted ship (she’s the “Flying Dutchman” of the Great Lakes by some sources), part wild goose chase, it now appears there may be an end to her story.

In 1679, the Great Lakes region looked much different.  The area was known as “New France” or “Louisiana”.  French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle was sent by King Louis XVI to explore the New World and formally claim part of it for France.  He’d been doing this for a number of years, exploring parts of modern New York, Michigan, and possibly down as far as Kentucky.

Satellite view of the Great Lakes Region as it appears today. The Great Lakes region, or Louisiana, part of New France, as it was called them, would appear very different. It was under these raw conditions that the first cobbled-together shipyard would produce “The Griffin” the first European decked, sailing ship to appear on the upper Great Lakes.

Of course, the native peoples of the Great Lakes region were welcoming of Europeans as long as there were few of them and they were eager traders, but as more colonists came desiring land, things got a little more uneasy.  Some tribes were welcoming and some were openly hostile, yet others allied with other tribes against the Europeans or with the Europeans against their own enemies. (Of course, individuals have unique agendas, further blurring these lines.)

Setting out to map the Great Lakes, and discover if the rumored Ohio River did lead to the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, de la Salle took a ship up Lake Ontario, but was stopped by a little obstruction called Niagara Falls, and had to figure out what to do next.  He couldn’t go around Lake Erie, as the local peoples, the Seneca nation, did not want him in their territory, so he had to continue on ship…and the only one he had was stuck at the base of the falls.

He had two choices, use the large canoes used by the native peoples of the Great Lakes, or build a new, European style ship.  Guess which one he went with?

Named “Le Grifon” or “The Griffin”, this ship, only about as long as one of those canoes, but much higher and more heavily armed, was built between January and June 1679.  But think for a second: the Griffin’s men first had to build their own lodgings, and guard against attacks from the Seneca and Iroquois, who did not approve of this new ship.  They had to fell great, virgin trees, likely hundreds of years old, cut them to length and width, plane them down, shape them, and set them in the ship on-site, while a blacksmith would first have to build a forge, then create all of the metal fastenings to hold Griffin together.

Thankfully,  de la Salle had a priest along on this expedition, a Louis Hennepin, who chronicled the entire journey, including Griffin’s short life.  It’s his writings that give us the clearest and one of the only first-person accounts of the build to loss of this unique ship.  He records that one master carpenter, one blacksmith, and ten other workmen built the Griffon in five months (January – May 1679).  The only pre-made items for her construction were the cannons, guns, rigging, chains, sails and anchor.  She had a griffon on her bowsprit, and an eagle carving as well.

Griffin’s possible appearances based on Hennepin’s period descriptions, other French ships of the time, and the research of Dr. George Quimby, Field Museum curator. Only finding the wreck will prove which, or any, of these designs are accurate.

 

The map below shows where Griffin’s only voyage went.  All things considered, she was very fast for her time.

 

Griffon’s Voyage, based on Quimby’s research and Hennepin’s accounts. Click on the map for a larger image. To read the Griffon’s account in Quimby’s book for yourself, go here:  (Link on the right).

In September, De la Salle, wanting to continue down Lake Michigan and find a river that could lead to the Gulf, but also needing to return to settle debts and acquire more supplies, decided to divide and conquer.  The priest Hennepin wrote what happened next:

“M[onsieur] la Salle, without asking anybody’s Advice, resolv’d to send back his Ship to Niagara, laden with Furrs [sic] and Skins to discharge he Debts: our Pilot [Luc the Dane, by all accounts] and five Men with him were therefore sent back, and ordere’d to return with all imaginable speed, to join us toward the Southern Parts of the Lake…They wailed the 18th of September with a Westerly Wind, and fir’d a Gun [cannon] to take their leave. ..it was never known what Course they steer’d, not how they perished; for after all the Enquiries we have been able to make, we could never learn anything else but the following…

The ship came to an Anchor to the North of the Lake of the Illinois [Lake Michigan] where she was seen by some Savages, who told us that they advised our Men to sail along the Coast, and not towards the middle of the Lake, because the sands [shoals, bars, islands] that make navigation dangerous when there is any high Wind.  Our Pilot as I said before, was dissatisfy’d and would steer as he pleas’d, without hearkening to the Advice of the Savages, who, generally speaking, have more sense than the Europeans think at first; the ship as hardly more than a League from the Coast, when it was toss’d up by a violent Storm in such a manner that out Men were never heard of since and it is suppos’d that the Ship struck upon a Sand as was there bury’d.”

The Griffin was never seen again.  De la Salle later heard some rumors that the pilot, Luc the Dane, and his men had scuttled the Griffin, and made off with his supply of furs worth £49,830 (in 2005 values) or $90,689.73 (2005 values)[1].  Another rumor that floated around was the local peoples had boarded the Griffin, then burned her to the waterline, where she sank.  Of course, the most common conclusion was the Griffin had sunk the four-day storm that Hennepin noted in his diary from September 19 to September 24, 1679.

The only European built ship in the Upper Great Lakes for nearly another hundred years, the Griffin is unique for several reasons: she’s the first European style ship built on the Great Lakes, using mostly native materials.  She may have utilized unique construction techniques due to this construction.  She’s from a time period that few examples survive, even few accurate plans.  As a wreck, she would be a time capsule, allowing an unpolluted view into this elusive time period of North American history, when the lines between the native peoples and the European settlers was constantly shifting, the concept of the USA and Canada was not yet born, when a French Flag flew over most of modern New York, Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and the whole place was called “Louisiana” (And now you know where the name “Louisiana Purchase” officially originated.)  But most important, she seems to have sunk in a relatively deep, cold place in Lake Michigan, and possibly was completely covered in sand.

Why is that important?  Because unlike the ocean, where wooden ships quickly rot away, leaving their outlines in weaponry, metal fastenings and other stable cargo, wooden shipwrecks of the Great Lakes can remain whole for decades, if not centuries.  Many 19th century shipwrecks in Lake Michigan and Huron still bear their riggings, and hold cargo in perfect condition.  The Griffin, if found, even raised, could change our concepts of this time, much as the Mary Rose did Tudor England, or the Vasa about 17th century Sweden.

To give an idea of the excellent condition the Griffin could be found in, if she reached the bottom relatively intact, check out this video of the HMS Ontario, which sank in Lake Erie in 1780, during the Revolutionary War, or the American War of Independence.  Outside of some zebra mussels, she’s in such perfect condition, her discoverers said even two windows are still intact.

Or look at these 3D  models of shipwrecks from Thunder Bay, most of which sank in the 19th century.  Many of them look as though they sank a short while ago, still standing some with masts and some rigging intact.

The Griffin could indeed tell us much of the earliest written history of the Great Lakes.  But if the site that’s been investigated now is Griffon, who owns her and what happens next?  Heck, her discovery is a story in and of itself.

That’s another post.

For More Information:

 

This movie was put out by the Great Lakes Expedition team which is heading the Griffin expedition:

And this one is a highlight reel of the excavations taking place this summer (June 2013) Apparently, this spar of “the Griffin” was 10 feet, and they’ve excavated another 8 feet down to find, more spar! If this is the Griffin, I’m wondering if it’s the mast, not the bowsprit as previously thought, but then again, I’m not on site, and 17th century sailing vessels aren’t my specialty!

Great Article on the Griffon’s possible wreck, including photos and film footage of the bowsprit/mast spar:

Information Provided by the Great Lakes Exploration Group, who are leading the exploration of the wreck

 More information about the shipwreck and the progress of the preliminary dig taking place this summer (2013)

 

 


[1] Calculations based on “Money and Exchange Rates in 1632” by Francis Turner; “Currency Converter: old Money to new” from the British National Archives online: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/default0.asp#mid; and X[change] Rates: Great Britain Pound to US Dollar 2005 Exchange Rates: http://www.x-rates.com/average/?from=GBP&to=USD&amount=49830&year=2005