Saving the Dolphin from destruction

On January 8, 2020, Roy Cano of Sausalito came to the Arques School to ask that we help him prevent the historical sloop Dolphin from being destoyed.  The 21ft long Dolphin is said to have been built by Menotti Pasquinucci in the 1920s at his boatyard at the foot of Turney Street in Sausalito. She was built for Syd Foster, an avid racer who worked for many years as the Arques marina’s harbormaster. Syd raced Dolphin for decades out of Sausalito and Alameda. Roy Cano had worked for Don Arques from the 1970s up to the time of Don’s passing. Don had explained to Roy that he too had been involved with Dophin’s construction. Apparently, Don built Dolphin’s cabin. Ralph Flowers, a well-known Sausalito boatbuilder and sailor who was active into the 1980s, told Roy that he had assembled the sloop’s rig. For the last decade or so, Dolphin was stored on the banks of the Petaluma River. Recently, that property was being cleared for new construction.  Roy explained that he had no place to bring Dolphin, nor the means to do so.  After examining Dolphin’s condition, I agreed to move it to the Arques School’s storage yard for the sake of picking up the lines of the vessel by the School’s Design Class and lofting it.  Sadly, Roy Cano passed away in February. His son, Diego, has decided to move ahead with Roy’s plan. Dolphin is now safe at the School’s storage yard and we are currently reseaching her history.  Our hope is that funds can be raised to preserve Dolphin for posterity.

Bob Darr, March 8, 2020



J. Parsons, an Arques School graduate of both the School’s Design Class and Saturday Class, recently launched a boat that he designed and built called “Treebeard,” seen in the photo above taken by Peter Strietmann.

Latitude 38 ran the following story in January:


Here’s the link to the 2019 March/April edition of the Sonoma County Woodworkers Association’s newsletter featuring a long presentation on Freda and the Arques School.

2019-3_4 SCWA newsletter sfs



Bob Darr:   I designed Loon many years ago.   We framed and planked her when the Arques School was just next door at the Arques Property.  Then came the years of working on Freda which was a fantastic opportunity for the School but which resulted in slow progress on the other boats we had designed.  Loon is a favorite of my own designs so it is a delight to see her approaching completion.  We have the spars, rigging, and sails ready. I am now working on the retractable ballast keel.

Here are some photos of Loon’s construction over the last few years:

Loon, a 20ft day-sailor
Loon, a 20ft day-sailor as of February, 2019


July,2008. Loon in cradle ready to receive bulkheads and decking.

Below is a photo of Loon’s retractable keel and case.  Below it is a wood mold of the ballast to be cast in lead:




The Arques School’s curriculum was in large measure inspired by 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. Two of those letters are posted below.

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.

Letter #1

From: Hal Chase

Box 2234 Paso Robles, CA 93447

January 5, 1998

Dear Bob [Boat builder and translator, Bob Darr, one of Haldon Chase’s students and friends.  They met in 1973 at Bolinas, California]-

For the past few months I’ve been thinking of you a lot. Mal [Hal’s second son, Malcolm] told me about the new school at Arques [The wooden boat building school in Sausalito endowed by Donlon Arques and opened by Bob Darr in 1996] for which incidentally congrats etc. & that you were building the Columbia River Salmon Boats.

Since then I’ve been going thru our various stuff looking for a packet of boat plans we had from Kneess’s.[George Kneass was a prominent San Francisco boatbuilder who, a century ago, opened a boatyard in San Francisco which remained active throughout the 20th century]. I’m sure we had a plan for them and the yard made them as a stock boat. I don’t know if these old plans are of any interest to you but I’ll rather than moulding in Peachy Canyon [near Paso Robles, CA] I think they should be someplace. To date however it’s somewhat academic because I’ve not found them yet.

But beyond that I’ve been working up what I hope will be a reasonable approximation of Maury’s Cimba lines. [Cimba was a 35 foot Nova Scotia schooner that Richard Maury sailed from Connecticut to Fiji in 1933.  Maury wrote a lively account of his voyage in The Saga of Cimba.] There are many details of the construction of this kind of boat that I feel totally ignorant of. The details of the clamp and shelf for raised fore-deck and the quarter deck, Also the quarter block and framing for the raked transom and fashion pieces for the monkey rail on the towboat stern are far from clear in my mind.

Then too I’m building a replica of Robinson’s Varua . [William Albert Robinson sailed his small ketch, the Svaap, around the world from 1928 to1930.  He later commissioned Starling Burgess to design the 70 foot brigantine, Varua. Robinson wrote about the superb sailing qualities of the Varua in extreme stormy weather in a travelogue,To the Great Southern Sea]. A beautiful big model 72 ” long that I want to stand as a program for building the boat in wood, I find myself thinking I should ask Mal to talk to you about these things that perplex me. Then it dawned on me that my time for holding back so my children can develop – without too much parental involvement is over or should be. The kids are big enough and old enough to go on their own. So here I am I writing you, and a good thing too because I have wanted for a long time to thank you for the little planer. I use it all the time today for example getting out 3/16″ plank wood for the models. Thank you very much, Bob, I really do use and appreciate the tool and the fact that you knew I would.  And in this talk I want to let you know how much I admire your efforts – at least your entrada into Afghanistan. It was one of the most brave and courageous acts that I have heard of in my time. I’m very glad you wrote about it and sent me your account. [Travels through Free Afghanistan, Darr, 1989]Possibly you may value your translations of devotional literature from the Persian more, but for me that world is beyond my perspectives – I’m afraid I’m not very spiritual anyhow. What I can’t get over is the sheer guts it took to make that trip and I take my hat off to you. Pretty good. Getting away from the personal matters, a little embarrassing to speak of them actually. Mal’s getting the big boat [A Tancook whaler design from Nova Scotia that Hal built in the 1970s] so that it is actually moving has me really charged up. Started up on all the models again. I do believe in those models for information and that’s what got me back to Cimba again. That little boat is really interesting because she does actually make astonishing passages. Reading the accounts closely makes me think about what she did easy and commonly was to surf on the crest? of the wave which suggests she does have some kind of special body lines. All of this study of passages, plus a reading of Doherty’s The Boats They Sailed In induced me to look up the old letters that Dan Millet [A young associate of Hal Chase who built a 26-foot long version of the Tancook Whaler] wrote to me as he went around the world in Lil Boat. His accounts show passages equal to Trekka and in fact better. His LWL is 19 ft and Trekka was 18’6″.  I’ve got to check this out more and get back to him. I want him to check his logs. He sailed with bungee cord self steering and did not actually steer with the tiller ever, you can no doubt guess I can go on like this, but I’d like to hear from you and how you’re doing. As ever, Hal

Correspondence with Haldon Chase

Letter #2

[The next letter is a continuation of the letter dated Jan. 8, 1998]

Jan 10,1998

New Dear Bob,

For some reason the letter did not get mailed and I’m glad it didn’t because lots more has come to mind since then.

I’ve been thinking about the Varua [William Albert Robinson’s brigantine mentioned in the first letter] a lot since the first part [of the letter]. The model is planked on a framed mold that Erik [Hal’s oldest son] made about 10 years ago over section lines that I measured from Roger Taylor’s book. [More Good Boats, Roger C. Taylor, International Marine Publishing Company, 1979, pages 151 through 163.] About five years ago I planked over the frames he had bent. The past couple of days I’ve been checking the ends and beam. I think it is different from the lines a little. 73 & 3/4 (feet) long instead of 70 feet’ for example. It seems that the stem is a bit different too. Actually I think I planked about [to] scale, 6” higher than the original was. This makes more difference in the appearance of the stern and upper transom then it does in the bow I think. It makes a fine model but I had hoped to make it faithfully almost as a blueprint. I don’t know exactly why I’m going into all this detail except that I think in the back of my mind that you are probably very conversant and knowledgeable about Varua, may even have sailed her. I can’t remember our ever having talked about this.

In some way I’m thinking a lot about boats right now and Varua in particular because I would dearly love to find a project important enough, useful enough, and big enough to engage our whole family in. Boat building itself is enough for me but if the boat was useful in itself as I think a boat the size of the Varua  would be, that is all the better. One of the best things about Varua is she is manageable with a small crew. Almost the opposite of modern boats. But other possibilities seem potentially attractive.

The one problem I have is that I am here in this valley and I have almost no (?)more input about boating interest at the present time.

I fear my own interests are essentially rooted in the practical boats as exemplified by Chapelle. In fact I can easily spend an evening with his books– stimulated out of all sanity by his square stern Hampton boats, Crotch Island Pinks [pinkies], Noank Sloop. Last night I looked closely at his lapstrake Block Islander. [Hal frequently advocated the careful study of the lines of traditional American sailing vessels such as those found in the book, American Small Sailing Craft by Howard Chappelle] Night before, I looked at Atkin’s Final boat. Before that I was deep in Uffa Fox’s idea of the Skerry boat racers and cruisers. [i.e. the Vigilant.The boat is recorded in Uffa’s 1934 book Sailing, Seamanship and Yacht Construction with an abridged version in The Best of Uffa edited by Guy Cole] In fact I wonder if people may be ready to go back to the long thin boats (a la F. Herreshoff) [such as the Rozinante, which Hal admired] instead of the planing hulls.

This brings me around to the point that may be of value to you.  There was a boat made as a type on San Francisco Bay (I think possibly made by Stone) that was very much like modern racer cruisers. They were I think (hazy recollection) oyster tongers or maybe bay shrimpers. I saw one and was a board back in 1960 or so. She was in plan view shaped like a teardrop [Hal here draws the outline of a tear drop to indicate the waterline as seen from above], cutter or sloop rigged, 25 feet to 30 feet long I think.  She was I think quite shoal and had a cabin like a cat boat. She was at Richmond yacht harbor and her owner, friend of old Tom Drake, said she was [a] very, very fast sailor. Her name I think was Goose. Built 1900 or earlier. What I’m wondering now–I was too hide bound to really believe the owner then–is whether or not she were a planing or at least surfing hull. I find this idea very seductive because she was definitely a wooden boat–not wood reinforced epoxy. Also she was clearly extreme and not at all the cruising hull considered ideal.

I’m going to cool it now, but knowing what my problem is re–the family focus, what boat do you think would make sense for us? [Darr: I advised him to consider Herreshoff’s Buzzards Bay 14 Footer found in Sensible Cruising Designs, L Francis Herreshoff, 1973, International Marine Publishing Company, page 255] Another speculation I have is possibly a new Bird Boat–though I have no idea of the Bird [Boat] organization.

As Ever, Hal