November 12, 2013

The lead paddle has passed

John Will relinquishes leadership of the Pemaquid Paddlers, which he founded.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

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With John Will somewhere in front, the Pemaquid Paddlers make their way along the shore of Pemaquid Point during one of the last organized kayaking expeditions of 2013. A former teacher from Ohio, the 68-year-old Hill organized the group solely as a labor of love, and now hopes someone else steps up to be leader of the paddling pack.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Nancy Marshall of New Hampshire, who owns a cottage on Pemaquid Pond, has long enjoyed the Pemaquid Paddlers’ weekly expeditions from May to November. But the group now finds itself without a captain as John Will would rather someone else handle the immense organizing.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


For the past 10 years John Will volunteered his time to organize and lead the Pemaquid Paddlers. During those years the paddlers and miles paddled added up quickly. Here is the group’s last year by the numbers:

24: Number of trips planned

24: Number of trips taken

402: Total who paddled

32: Most paddlers on a trip

4: Fewest paddlers on a trip

1,890: Miles paddled

4: Trips in the rain

14: Brilliant sunny trips

So it was with sadness that the core group of Pemaquid Paddlers who have joined the weekly trips for years found out last month Will is definitely ending his weekly tours that spanned from May to November each year for 10 years.

“John is like a Father Goose character,” said Rick Sevra, a paddler from Kansas City who summers in New Harbor.

“He shepherds everyone into the water and shepherds them out of the water. He keeps count of everyone during the paddle. He’s just a very dedicated gentleman.

“Everyone is mourning the passing of this group.”

Will is just tired of the organizing, he said last week in a coffee shop in Damariscotta. At 68, he’d just like to paddle with no responsibilities, which he does nearly every day from May to November, anyway.

“We’re sad John’s not doing it,” said Stephen Jenks of Portland, who summers in the midcoast with his wife, Carolyn.

“I totally understand his reasons. It’s been a one-man show for years. He finally got someone to write the weekly postings in the newspaper. But he’s really been central to the whole thing.”

So what will come of the Pemaquid Paddlers now that Will has stepped away from his duties, which were really just an invitation to others to get outside?

“No one has stopped to even think about taking over the reins of what he has put together. He’s had no support or backup. It’s unusual,” Sevra said.

Sure, the Pemaquid Watershed Association offers Saturday morning paddles, some that Will has guided. But as to the regular Tuesday morning outings, this organic, home-grown effort that came from one man’s love of the Maine coast? Nobody knows.

“I think it’s a good model for how things used to work, and work very well, when you have really committed, passionate people,” said paddler Mary Margaret Halsey of Newburyport, Mass.

“But then they get formalized and standardized and made into a bureaucracy and then it gets into money. I like John’s approach. I trust John.”

Yet Will has decided with the same conviction he brought to the free, guided trips he organized so well, this is it.

“I told them in the first newsletter. And then started each weekly report saying, ‘Come join me on my fairwell tour.’ They had 24 trips to find out this was it,” he said.

Several paddlers who planned their summers around the Tuesday journeys are hoping they can keep it going. But so far nobody has come forward to run the Pemaquid Paddlers. The regular paddlers say they don’t know what will become of the group. They only know there is no one who would run it like Will.

Halsey said Will took care of all the planning and except for two times in 10 years, he always showed up. And those two times when he was on vacation, he got substitute guides. So the Pemaquid Paddles went on.

“I liked the reliability of it. If it rained, we went. I didn’t have to wonder. I knew it was going to happen. He was just very dedicated,” Halsey said.

“Maybe it will become more informal, no more emails, just a bunch of us going out on such and such a Tuesday.”

But for Will, he’s looking forward to longer paddles, sleeping in on Tuesdays, not worrying about why on earth the people who called didn’t show up.

To the participants in the Pemaquid Paddlers, the reliable weekly paddles that spanned six months were unheard of in the midcoast region. But Will wondered why more people didn’t participate.

“Of 161 on the email list, we only had about 10 percent show up. I wondered why the others weren’t there,” Will said. “I hope they weren’t just sitting at home looking outside.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: FlemingPph

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John Will


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