Field guide provides 'boat nerds' with inside look at what's passing on the Detroit River

Windsor-Essex is widely known as a destination for phenomenal bird watching, but for some the real action is out on the water.

The month of May marks prime boat watching season along the Detroit River and the area's biggest "boat nerds"are prepared with a handy field guide to all the big lake freighters that will pass by.

"You see these boats going by. Where are they going? What are they carrying? Who's on them?" explained Roger Lelievre, president of Marine Historical Society of Detroit, and the publisher of an annual field guide called "Know Your Ships" — also known as the Boat Watcher's Bible.

The guide, which has been published every year since 1959, includes photos and information about the owner of each ship and its size.

Boats become family and friends

Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Lelievre said he became interested in big boats as a kid. It's a passion that continues today.

"If you follow them for awhile, they kind of become family and friends," he added. "You get to know their names ... and you kind of know the back story, and maybe you know the captain or some of the crew, and it becomes very personal."

Lelievre said his favourites are the few surviving steam-powered ships.

"There's really not very many of them left, just three or four on the U.S. side, and those are quickly going over to diesel," he said. "I really like the older ships because of the design and the style. The newer ships don't seem to have the allure. They're kind of all built from the same plans and they don't look any different from one another."

The boat enthusiast is also involved in a website called, which features a live map showing where each ship is right now.