Will Kent, builder, 1945—2019

Courtesy of Cynthia Kent
Will Kent of Marshall worked on homes and businesses along Tomales Bay for decades.  

Will Kent, a renaissance man who dedicated his life to maintaining and restoring the piers and foundations that keep bayside homes and businesses above water in Marshall, died on March 31 at his home in Albion. He was 73 years old. 

Will grew up in Southern California, dropping out of school as a teenager to shape surfboards in Venice Beach for Dewey Weber, a renowned shaper. His do-it-yourself attitude infused his life: he built his own boat, the Briar Rose, which he used for 50 years to support his repair work on Tomales Bay. A winemaker, gardener and fisherman, there was little Will couldn’t do with his own hands. 

“He was an absolute renaissance person—a fisherman, a talented contractor who also knew a great deal about growing food and medicinal plants. His breadth of knowing was breathtaking, and every time I worked with him on a project, I learned from him,” said Kirk Marckwald, who owns a home in Marshall. “He became a deep, true and trusted advisor, handling almost every imaginable problem that arose. He was a partner and a friend—a better friend you couldn’t ask for.”

Will moved to San Francisco during the Summer of Love, migrating further north to settle in Marshall in the early ‘70s. He rented numerous homes in Marshall, and in the early ‘80s purchased a 20-acre property in Albion, in Mendocino County, with several partners. He bought out all but one partner in later years, and the property allowed him to fulfill his vision of living off the land, though he continued to spend most of his time on Tomales Bay. 

“Marshall was work, but in Albion, Will could really let his hair down,” explained Malcolm Chase, a friend and fellow boatmaker and contractor who lives in Santa Rosa. 

Will is survived by his wife of 20 years, Cynthia Kent, four children and four stepchildren.   Cynthia, who lived in Humboldt County for nearly 30 years before she met Will, said he “just swept me right off my feet.” In 1999, a friend of hers urged her to go to Burning Man, though she had never been before and had just lost her grandmother. But Cynthia was going to meet someone special there: the friend had seen it in a dream. 

“The first moment I saw him, I walked back into the other room and had to sit down. ‘What just happened?’” Cynthia said. “We hugged, and it was like we were spinning.”

One week later, Will proposed. Though Cynthia had told him it would take her three months to pack up her life in Humboldt, she found herself in Marin within a few weeks. 

Cynthia, an herbalist and a hospice caregiver, said they worked on projects together. “Will made things—candles for the Renaissance Faire, wine—worked in the garden and was an artistic and amazing carpenter,” she said. “Back in the day, he stitched moccasins for the Grateful Dead.” 

And his boat, she said, “Well, she and him know Tomales Bay like the back of his hand.”

Ingrid Noyes, a Marshall native who lives in Fort Bragg, said Will took part in major renovations of Tony’s Seafood and Nick’s Cove—high-profile jobs—though he probably worked on nearly every structure in Marshall, she added. 

“He would work around the tides on the houses over the water, on the moorings—anything that required a boat or diving, making sure everything was functional and safe. He had jobs cornered that no one else did,” Ingrid said. “His boat—that boat was special.” 

Malcolm described the Briar Rose as the boat “to sail away into the sunset with.” At nearly 40 feet, it was made with ferro cement with a steel frame of mesh and rebar—cheap materials, but it was modeled after the boat used by the first man who sailed around the world alone in the 1880s. It was set up to live on and for commercial fishing—typically salmon. Once, around a decade ago, Will sailed it all the way to Mexico. 

“What Will did and the way he did it was so innovative,” Malcolm said. “In the late ’90s, we poured several columns in Marshall, using corrugated barn metal. They looked like Grecian columns because they were fluted all the way around. They are absolute works of art, though no one would necessarily know, and they are absolutely functional.” 

He added, “Will was rough around the edges, but he was also charming; he had a grace. He would walk in looking like an old fisherman and end up with an amazing job. People had confidence in him.”