RenÃ©-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was the quintessential 17th-century French explorer. In 1667, at the age of 24, La Salle set out to make his fortune in the New World during the reign of Louis XIV, France's Sun King. La Salle was given title to land along the St. Lawrence River at Montreal to help develop the future of this mercantile colony. The French who preceded La Salle were either Jesuit missionaries, fur traders satisfying the fashion demands of Paris or explorers driven by discovery and backed by influential entrepreneurs and members of the French royal court.La Salle was an amalgam of all three groups. Trained as a Jesuit priest, he never took his vows. He learned the techniques of trading through his family's business and was willing to endure the hardships of explo- ration in exchange for fame. In 1669, along with a party of missionaries, he visited the area around Niagara Falls between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Ten years later he returned to the region to build the first European sailing vessel to ply the waters of lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan from the green timber of the wilderness of what is now western New York State. He christened the ship Le Griffon, or griffin, a mythological creature that was part of his family's coat-of-arms.La Salle's objective was to make discoveries in the name of France, establish trading stations that would help pay for his expeditions and erect French military posts along the way to claim land for France and forestall any encroachments by England. These territorial ambitions between the monarchies would come to a head 75 years later in the French and Indian War.On Aug. 7, 1679, Le Griffon and a crew of 32 set sail upon Lake Erie on waters previously traversed only by birch-bark canoes. On the third day of the trip they entered a strait 30 miles long at the western end of the lake. La Salle named it le dÃ©troit du lac Ãrie, meaning the strait of Lake Erie. Today, we simply call the city there Detroit.Between sailing against currents and navigational hazards, it took La Salle 13 days to cover the 75 nautical miles between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Le Griffon then sailed along the north shore of Lake Huron to the confluence of the waters of Michigan, Superior and Huron to an island called Mishi-Mikinaak by the Ojibwe tribewhich we now know as Mackinac Islandon Aug. 27.La Salle then sailed to Green Bay, where he anchored at Washington Island. Native Americans from the Pottawatomie tribe eagerly traded their furs with La Salle's expedition. La Salle decided to leave Le Griffon and continue on into the wilderness via canoe and land portages. The furs he acquired would be shipped back to Fort Niagara on Le Griffon and then eventually be sailed to Europe, where they would make La Salle a rich man. Le Griffon sailed eastward through Portes des Morts (Death's Door) to Lake Michigan. Her first port of call was to be Mackinac Island to take aboard a load of furs that La Salle had waiting there. Gale force winds blew across the northern Great Lakes on Sept. 19, typical of the autumn cold fronts that these days cause prudent boaters to end their recreational season by Labor Day weekend. Le Griffon was never seen or heard from again.La Salle, oblivious to the fate of his ship, paddled with his band along the western shore of Lake Michigan, passing the locations of the future cities of Milwaukee and Chicago, then just thick forests. At the south end of Lake Michigan he made camp for a few days. After a near disastrous confrontation with a local tribe, he continued eastward along the lake's shore to a rendezvous point on the St. Joseph River, site of the present day Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Michigan.La Salle waited there for more than a month but heard nothing from Le Griffon. He knew that if the ship was lost, he would be bankrupt. He was deeply in debt to the fur traders in Montreal and Quebec at this point, and Le Griffon was not insured. It was now the beginning of December and a frigid Great Lakes winter was in the offing. La Salle had no choice but to leave Fort Miami, as he called his encampment along the St. Jospeh River, and continue on westward to the Illinois River. On January 4, 1680, they camped at a broadening of that river, which is now called Peoria Lake. There La Salle shaken by the loss of Le Griffon built a fort called CrÃ©ve- coeur or broken hearted.But what of Le Griffon and her crew and cargo of pelts, now the Holy buffs alike will just have to wait a bit longer to discover the secrets of the wreck of Le Griffon. This story recounts just one of the many incredible journeys that La Salle undertook in his quest to discover the mouth of the Mississippi River. As sailors on the Great Lakes cruise those waters and retrace his wake, they can close their eyes and La Salle's objective was to make discoveries in the name of France ... and forestall any encroachments by England. Grail of Great Lakes shipwrecks? During a dive in 2001, a historic shipwreck hunter claimed to have discovered the remains of Le Griffon on the floor of Lake Michigan. He held back the exact geographic location for fear of claim jumpers both private and governmental. Subsequently, the state of Michigan, claiming ownership of the wreck, refused to issue him a permit to conduct a preliminary investigation. A lawsuit ensued in the federal courts, and by 2009 the French government had also claimed rights to the wreck should it prove to be Le Griffon.Admiralty law moves very, very slowly. The last entry on the docket in this case was two-and-a-half years ago. Mariners, scholars, and history buffs alike will just have to wait a bit longer to discover the secrets of the wreck of Le Griffon.This story recounts just one of the many incredible journeys that La Salle undertook in his quest to discover the mouth of the Mississippi River. As sailors on the Great Lakes cruise those waters and retrace his wake, they can close their eyes and imagine the days of birch-bark canoes, Native American villages, voyageurs, trappers and explorers.