Le Griffon - First Ships and Preparations

First Ships and Preparations

Le Griffon may or may not be considered the first ship on the Great Lakes, depending on what factors one deems necessary to qualify a vessel for that designation. Decking, permanent masts, and bearing a name are a few of the criteria one might use.

Before 1673, the most common vessel on the lakes was the canoe. While smaller canoes were used on rivers and streams, lake canoes were more commonly larger vessels measuring up to about 35 feet long. While some of these were made from a single carved log ("dug out" or "pirogue"), most were bark canoes. Bateaux were also common. They were open vessels (no deck) made of wood measuring up to about 35 feet long and capable of carrying three or four tons of cargo. While they were at times fitted with mast and sails, their primary propulsion was either oars or poles. The sails were merely supplemental for traveling down wind. Their inefficiency at beating to windward made them impractical as sailing vessels, and they were not very safe in open water.

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First Ships and Preparations - Above Niagara Falls: Le Griffon
... obtained in France, to a site above Niagara Falls where he could build his new ship ... On November 18, 1678, after just over a month of preparations at Fort Frontenac, LaSalle dispatched Captain La Motte and Father Louis Hennepin together with 15 men and supplies in a vessel of 10 tons ... There was some disagreement between LaSalle and the ship's pilot, and LaSalle and Tonti went ahead on foot to Niagara ...

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