The Arques School is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In April of 1996 we taught our first classes in traditional wooden boat building. The curriculum of the Arques School is largely based on the late Haldon Chase’s teachings. Hal admired the superb aesthetics of 19th and early 20th century American wooden sailing and rowing boats. A champion of sustainability in the 1970′s, Hal taught the use of suitable locally growing trees for building traditional boats.
Bob Darr: I met Hal Chase in 1973 when I lived in Bolinas. I walked by him one day carrying my infant daughter in a sling. Hal was working on a Tancook Whaler he was building at his place on the Bolinas Mesa. From a distance I had noticed that there were no bumps in the curves of the hull planking. “No butt blocks!” I cried out just as Hal’s head disappeared below the hatch. He immediately reappeared smiling and invited me to join him for coffee.
I was soon spending a lot of time with Hal. It became obvious that he knew about a lot more than building boats. He used the local woods, mostly eucalyptus and fir, to build his boats, most of which he had milled himself. He knew how to work with metal as well. I soon realized that he was quite literate and our discussions explored philosophy, anthropology, farming, fishing, construction, voyaging, and much more. I didn’t learn until years later that Haldon Chase witnessed the beginnings of the beatnik era, and had been a friend of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. He ended up choosing a somewhat reclusive life engaged primarily in farming and boatbuilding. He preferred workboats but was capable of very fine woodworking as well. Hal had also made Elizabethan lutes and even a viol de gamba.
Hal was a huge influence on my life. He taught me how to think things through, to adapt, invent, modify, imagine, plan, and most importantly––how to live lightly on the earth as a craftsman using local materials. After Hal moved his family to Peachy Canyon near Paso Robles in the mid-1970s, we visited each other on occasion and also communicated with handwritten letters. His were full of profound insights. I’ve transcribed some of his nearly illegible letters with the help of students. Some are posted on this site.
When I first started writing for WoodenBoat magazine in 1980, I acknowledged his influence and described some of his ideas in WB issues #35 and #37. By 1981 I had opened a school in Sausalito called the Center for Wood Arts, with a curriculum largely based on Hal’s ideas. In 1996, I opened the Arques School of Traditional Wooden Boatbuilding, also in Sausalito, and we have preserved the essence of Hal’s teachings in many ways. I have had other boatbuilding teachers and I am grateful to all of them, but Hal’s influence runs the deepest and continues to inspire me and others.