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'Boats' is a great no-frills guide

We're all familiar with the scene: it's a midsummer day, and lining the canal are hundreds of tourists and locals, all gathered to watch the 1,013-foot Paul R. Tregurtha chug its way under the Aerial Lift Bridge, while gulls squawk and demand pop...

We're all familiar with the scene: it's a midsummer day, and lining the canal are hundreds of tourists and locals, all gathered to watch the 1,013-foot Paul R. Tregurtha chug its way under the Aerial Lift Bridge, while gulls squawk and demand popcorn.
Boat watching here is sort of like bird watching. You get to know the different sorts of boats with their identifying markings and get to know individual ones, too. Northlanders watch for rare "species" and have their favorite spots to watch from.
Why has no one thought to pen a guidebook for boat watching? Oh, wait. Someone has: "Where the Boats Are," by J.A. Baumhofer, now out in its 2000 edition.
There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this book. For starters, it's not the colorful masterpiece of design and typography that, say, a birding guide book usually is. This is 60-plus letter-size pages stapled together between pink letter pages as covers.
On the inside, typefaces change on a given page, showing where the author has replaced one or two. When the author has had smaller revisions to make, you can see where he used whiteout to erase the errant copy and then typed over it -- in a different typeface, of course.
None of this is particularly reader friendly.
And for that sort of production, $9.95 seems a little steep, quite honestly.
But throw all that out of your mind. This is a great book, a terrific book, because it flows true and unerringly out of its purpose, and because its content, so far as I can tell, is rock solid.
"Where the Boats Are" is true to its title and true to its aim as a boatwatching guide. There is virtually no fluff in it; Baumhofer, for the most part, is content to let others wax poetic about the beauty of the lake and the many sites to see in the Northland. He wastes very little time and energy on these things.
What Baumhofer does cover in detail is boat-watching, in Duluth-Superior, Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Taconite Harbor and Thunder Bay. First, he gives an almost encyclopedic list of the domestic and Canadian vessels a person is likely to see in these locations, complete with dimensions, the years of their construction and other fascinating facts.
Then he proceeds, in detail, to lay out entire tours for the Twin Ports and Thunder Bay, complete with driving instructions, tips and tricks for photography and the best viewing times. For the Twin Ports, there is even a long tour and a short tour.
Baumhofer also includes a detailed diagram of a Great Lakes boat to demonstrate what the dimensions mean and a list of phone numbers for boat-watching -- hotlines, numbers for industrial sites to get permission for viewing, and so on.
And most surprising of all, despite the woeful production value, the copy is pretty clean. This is not somebody's hacked together manuscript that couldn't get published. Aside from minor glitches here and there, the writing is sharp, and like the book itself, geared directly to the purpose and intent of the book.
For all of this, I have to wonder. What Baumhofer has put together, apparently with only a photocopier, a computer and a stapler, is really remarkably good. What would happen if a publisher could put it together in a short, glossy paperback?
I mean, there's so much good stuff here. Photographs and tables and charts would be ideally suited to just a nice layout, built to withstand repeat trips. I can see people almost treating this like bird-watchers, putting together life lists of boats they have seen.
With another quick glance over the copy, additional photographs, tables and charts laid out readably and the typography straightened out, more readers would get past that initial mistrust. I can't help but think this would sell out quickly to tourists and locals.
The only drawback I could see was that the information may change quickly. This is an updated version, the first in two years according to the author, and at that frequency, there might be some economic considerations.
Anyway, that's food for thought. As it stands, "Where the Boats Are" is a uniquely helpful book for visitors and residents. It can be purchased direct from the author at Box 4302, St. Paul, Minn. 55104, or from J.W. Beecroft, Northern Lights and the Vista Fleet gift shop.
Don't judge it by its cover.
Kyle Eller is the Budgeteer book reviewer. Submit your books for review to him in care of the Budgeteer News, 222 West Superior Street, Duluth, Minn. 55802. To talk books, call Kyle at (218) 723-1207 or send e-mail to kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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