This paddling club formed 50 years ago and is marking its anniversary on the water

Courtesy of Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society
Courtesy of Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society
Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society founder Bill Stearns and his wife, Fern Sterns, run the Dead River in the early 1970s. The club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
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“I found a lot of very good boaters that knew about all the nice rivers to paddle in Maine and who were very welcoming of a new guy."
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In a meeting organized by longtime Bangor Daily News executive sports editor Bud Leavitt, a group of avid paddlers met in late January 1969 — after two Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Races had been staged — to see if anyone was interested in forming a paddling club.

According to 78-year-old Allan Fuller, an attendee of that meeting and charter member of the resulting group, it didn’t take long for the club to take form.

“I can’t remember if we did all this in the first meeting, or another at another meeting or two,” Fuller said. “Bill [Stearns] said that being a ‘chowder society’ would be kind of cool because it was different and it wasn’t just any canoe club. And so we [became] the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society.”

Courtesy of Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society
Courtesy of Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society
Boats, including one that didn't fare so well, are loaded on a truck at Wassataquoik Stream during a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society outing in the late 1970s. The club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Today Fuller is among those PPCS members readying for a celebratory paddle to mark the group’s golden anniversary and its hundreds of club trips to beautiful rivers in Maine and across the country.

The PPCS will celebrate its 50th year with a paddle that will stage from the Penobscot Salmon Club in Brewer at 10 a.m. Aug. 24 and head downstream to Orrington. Included in that paddle is co-sponsor Natural Resources Council of Maine, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

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The group will paddle in several 28-foot war canoes as well as smaller boats. Those interested in attending, paddling or learning more can reach Fuller at ftircom@gmail.com or 603-886-5555.

Fuller said the PPCS was a family-friendly club, and kids often attended meetings where paddling movies would be shown. In recent years, the membership has shown signs of age but that has not dampened their enthusiasm for the sport nor the camaraderie that comes with it.

“It was fun. We had a summer picnic. And we had a lot more kids than we do today because the club has morphed and people have grown up,” Fuller said. “You know, I’m kind of the gray-haired guy and the old guy, but I still go down the Dead River.”

Kyle Duckworth of Bar Harbor, now 57, joined the PPCS some 22 years ago when he was first getting into the wet-and-wild sport of whitewater paddling.

Courtesy of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society
Courtesy of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society
Ed Huff (left) and John Neff of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society show off their broken canoe after an ill-fated club trip down Wassataquoik Stream in the late 1970s.

“I wanted to learn how to paddle whitewater and needed to find people to go with. I was doing those races just because I wanted to meet people to paddle with. I didn’t like racing because it was too much like work. It required too much effort,” Duckworth said. “One of the guys that I met while racing said, ‘Well, what you need to do is join the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society. That’s where all the good whitewater paddlers are.’”

That’s where Duckworth found his paddling brethren, a group of skilled veterans who knew the state’s rivers and loved to spend time on them. And most importantly, he learned that society members wanted to share their knowledge with others.

“I found a lot of very good boaters that knew about all the nice rivers to paddle in Maine and who were very welcoming of a new guy,” Duckworth said. “They saw me as someone who had an earnest desire and just need a hand up. So a lot of folks were willing to give me that.”

Duckworth said when the club formed, some 30 years earlier, there was not much of a whitewater culture in the U.S. Whitewater-specific boats did not exist, nor did specialized gear to make the sport safer or more comfortable.

PPSC members, including Lew Gilman, who eventually developed the Old Town Tripper canoe and its manufacturing process, were among the trailblazers who paved the way for the adventures that would follow.

“When people who go out now kayak down the Kennebec gorge or the Penobscot gorge and they’ve got these hundreds of different boats to choose from and all the gear that you could think to do it safely, they take for granted the guys that invented this,” Duckworth said. “We’re standing on their shoulders right now.”

For more information about the club and its outings, check out its Facebook page.

Watch: Here’s how it feels to paddle through the rapids at Six Mile Falls in the Kenduskeag




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