October 10, 2013More than three decades ago, St. Clair Shores resident Bill Bradley began a quest to write the definitive guide to Lake St. Clair.
He spent years compiling information, visiting bars, restaurants, marinas, fishing holes, shops and saloons and more — on both the American and Canadian sides of the lake.
He added aerial photographs of marinas to help with navigation, spoke with hundreds about every topic imaginable regarding the lake he loved.
The result of these efforts was “The Pirate’s Guide to Lake St. Clair and Surrounding Waters.”
The journey, however, to the finished product was a long one.
“I guess it all started when I was a dock boy at Kings Marina about 1966,” Bradley said. “I loved the job. Boaters would come in from Chicago, Cleveland, all over and they would ask the dock boys where to go for dinner, where to go for entertainment. Where are the points of interest.”
These little conversations were the impetus for Bradley’s book, although he didn’t know it at the time.
College and a stint in the Marine Corps in Vietnam ultimately led Bradley into the publishing business, but his interest in the lake never waned.
“I had gone down to Florida and taught sailing in the ocean,” he said. “They had all these guidebooks down there. They had books like the ‘Yachtsman’s Guide to the Bahamas,’ and books like that.”
Bradley also spent time delivering boats up the coast of the United States and noticed similar guides along the route.
“They had these in-depth intercoastal waterway guides,” Bradley said. “These books were really amazing. They had everything you could imagine. So, when I got back here I did some research and saw that people had written books on the Great Lakes, but no one really had ever done anything on Lake St. Clair.”
This research led Bradley to one conclusion.
“I really thought that there would be a need for a guidebook,” he said. “So I did the first edition of the book, around 1980, as like a test. It pretty much worked.”
Bradley worked as many as three jobs while researching the book, he said, fitting in trips to locales all along the lake between a full-time job as an editor and a pair of bar tending gigs he took to help finance the cost of putting together his guidebook.
“I didn’t have anything to work off of,” Bradley explained. “So I had to go out to all these places and talk to people. It took at least two or three years of doing this kind of thing. And you have to remember this was long before digital printing. You had to pay for typesetting, for everything then.”
After the success of Bradley’s first edition of the book he made a decision to devote his efforts to producing the most comprehensive guide to the lake he possibly could.
“After the first test book worked,” he said, “I said to myself that I was really going to go to town on this one. I was really going to focus on content and content only. I wanted boat owners to have something that they could just look at and have everything they need right at their fingertips.”
The result was a 10-chapter guide that was complete, comprehensive and the first of its kind for the lake.
“When I was doing the first book and laying everything out for that I kept looking at it and looking at it and asking myself what is it about this lake?” he said. “Then I realized, this is the heart of the Great Lakes. It even looks like a heart. This lake has pretty much everything you can want in a lake.”
The book sold thousands of copies, and Bradley was content with putting his guide to rest.
Little did he know, the adventure with his Pirate’s Guide was far from over.
“I would go on Amazon.com and I would see the book,” he said. “And I couldn’t believe it.”
Bradley’s guide had become, over the years, a sought after item.
“I saw it on there for close to $1,000,” he said. “I was shocked.”
The books sold for $11.95 originally, but because these books were being sold on the secondary market, Bradley wasn’t making a dime off these sales.
However, at the bottom of the Amazon.com listings was a little footnote that got his attention.
“I saw at the very bottom of these pages that if you were the author of this book to contact us,” Bradley said. “So I contacted them.”
Amazon responded with a deal that revived Bradley’s decades-old guide to Lake St. Clair.
“They contacted me back and said here’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re going to print it. We’re going to list it on the page. We’re going to sell it. We’re going to ship it. We’re going to send you a check. It was a dream come true.
“I sent them two copies of the book at first like they asked,” he said. “I did a few minor revisions and we did run into a snag or two with them, but it got worked out.”
When the first shipment arrived at Bradley’s house a few months after sending it off to Amazon, he opened the package and was shocked.
“I was amazed,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe the quality of the books. They were so good. It was like 30 percent better than even the original. They do beautiful work.”
Bradley’s Amazon.com edition is a collector’s edition, and can be found on the popular website as well as locally at Heritage Bay located on Harper between 10 and 11 Mile roads.
Believe it or not, many of the items inside the 30-year-old guide are still relevant today, Bradley said, with just name changes to some of the locations and destinations.
Although many guidebooks are available today, Bradley’s “Pirate’s Guide to Lake St. Clair and Surrounding Waters” remains a valuable resource, whether used today or to leaf through pages for nostalgic reasons, he said.
“It’s really been an incredible journey with this book,” he said. “I never would’ve thought it would turn out this way. I really didn’t. I had moved on from it years ago, but now it’s got new life. It’s great.”
Bradley has a new book of short stories due out in November, which also will be available on Amazon.com, with many of these fictional tales set along the shores of Lake St. Clair.