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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.
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