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The Saigon Queen
Home of the San Fabian Yacht Club
The sign above the entrance says SAN FABIAN YACHT CLUB HOME OF THE SAIGON QUEEN. Beyond the veranda that juts out
over the San Fabian River fishermen paddle past on bamboo rafts. Inside, shells hang from the ceiling in fishing
nets while pieces of coral decorate the shelves above the bar. Behind the bar shark jaws surround a bronze three
bladed propeller, and overhead, near pennants from affiliated clubs, is a picture of a monkey clutching a beer mug.
The caption reads "booze is the ONLY answer." .
The Saigon Queen, once a Vietnamese refugee boat, runs the full length of the clubhouse. The bow sweeps up into a
raised stage where a karaoke machine sits by a small electronic key board; the stern forms the main bar before
disappearing into the kitchen. In places the teak planks have pulled apart revealing finely crafted wooden dowels;
this was no hastily constructed boat but a seaworthy craft put together with care and skill.
The Club's Commodore, Major Wally Brooks, United States Air Force retired, has the grizzled look of someone who has
seen it all ("I've been through three wars - hell, they weren't nothin' . . . it was the three marriages that
brought me to my knees"). He is sitting with Don Powers, eight years retired from the United States Air Force and a
former Seabee. Wally leans forward hunching his bulk into the shape of a bowling ball and says, "Let us tell you a
story . . . "
On July 12, 1986, 51 refugees - 25 men, 15 women, and 11 children - left Vietnam with no definite destination. They
arrived in Macao but authorities sent them away. They continued to Hong Kong where authorities fed and clothed them
and gave them another boat to replace theirs which had been damaged in a storm. In what was to become the Saigon
Queen they continued to Taiwan where once again they were refused permission to land. The following October their
ordeal at sea ended when they came ashore at the Agoo Playa Hotel in the Lingayen Gulf.