I become a member of the Quartzsite Yacht Club —
“Welcome Aboard – long time, no sea!”
-the motto of the Quartzsite Yacht Club
I joined a yacht club. I joined a yacht club in the middle of the Sonoran desert.
There is no water, no sea access, no rivers in sight of this yacht club, nor are there any boats — unless, of course, you count the ones that are being flatbedded behind rigs driving down the interstate running deliveries to the seaside ports of Los Angeles and San Diego hundreds of miles away.
Yes, it is true, the Quartzsite Yacht Club does not have any access to the sea — it never has and it never will unless California falls into the ocean and the Pacific rears up to meet its new coast line in Arizona — but these cold facts seemed to have done little to deter its founder, Al Madden, from founding a yacht club in the desert.
The fact that Quartzsite is as dry as a mouth full of saltine crackers may even have encouraged the founding of the yacht club:
Americans possess nothing if not a love for a good twist of over obvious irony — and a yacht club in the middle of the Arizona desert is appropriately ironic.
As you dust the grit of the desert off of your blue jeans and take one last breathe of air that cooks you from the inside out, you approach the Quartzsite Yacht Club, which sits right on the main thoroughfare of town. You may even caste one last glance out across a wide expanse of bare naked desert earth before you walk up to its door. The mere thought of water here is a mirage of the mind, and to even dream about the open sea seems ludicrous: you are in the land where fire combines with earth, and the water element seems to be a facade reserved for far away lands.
But as you reach for the handle you see a replica of ship’s helm hanging above the door — and you realize that you are about to enter a yacht club. Inside, the walls are covered in sea going paraphernalia — paintings of storms at sea, oars, shipping flags, stuffed marine animals, models of ships, ships in bottles, nautical charts, and a big galley bell hangs over the thick wooden bar.
The sign on the bell caught my attention:
“To he who rings this bell in jest, buys a round for all the rest.”
As I sat at the bar dreaming into the sea paintings and random assortment of ship parts and pieces that completely blanketed the walls of the club, I began to realize that this yacht club is no jest: it is for real. The people who duck into port and dock at Quartzsite may not be traveling by boat, they may not be traveling by sea, but they do have yachts: land yachts, a.k.a. Recreational Vehicles — RVs and campers.
Each year in Quartzsite 300,000 people from all over the USA and Canada sail across the continent in their land yachts for the cheap port fees and good docking facilities that are found in Quartzsite. These terrestrial sailors then stay for a few months drinking beer, worshiping the sun, and rejoicing that they possess the wisdom and gumption to follow the birds south and duck out of another winter . . .
And why not?
The yacht club serves as the main rendezvous point for these terrestrial sailors.
But as soon as spring breaks in again for its yearly round, Quartzsite is again left abandoned, and the sailors return home.
Though the yacht club still keeps its doors open for the few thousand sailors who have tied up to more permanent moorings and stay in the small desert town throughout the year.
“I pay $80 a month to keep my RV here,” spoke a year-rounder who pulled a stool up next to me at bar of the yacht club one night.
“Not bad,” I reply.
“Yeah, not bad,” he continued, “A lot of people say that they come here for the sun or for the weather, but no, they come here for another reason.”
People come to Quartzsite because it is cheap to live there.
$80 a month, apparently, claims a place for an RV, and a few more ten dollar bills on top of this covers rent with utilities. I must say here that, in my scant survey of inter continental sailing, this is a common tune of oceanic sailors as well: you go to where you can live the best on the least amount of money and effort.
For many RVers this place is Quartzsite, Arizona.
I ordered another $1.75 beer at the bar, and then inquired as to how I could become a member of the Quartzsite Yacht Club.
As for the benefits of membership I would get a t-shirt that had an image of a yacht sailing through the desert with cacti all around and a surprised jack rabbit watching the ship sail passed, a certificate confirming that I am a charter member of the club, a standard yacht club affiliation flag for the boat that I am soon to buy, and an official Quartzsite Yacht Club membership card.
People at the club even attests that the yacht club reciprocity statement that is printed on the card is in fact valid, and one man even told how he was permitted to gas up his boat at a club in California simply because he flashed his Quartzsite Yacht Club card.
I figure that if I am going to sail the world by sea I may as well be a member of a yacht club. And perhaps the only yacht club that is suitable for me is one out in the middle of the dry, dry desert.
I signed my name on the club membership ledger, and the bartender then saluted me and proclaimed me official charter member #7491 of the Quartzsite Yacht Club.
Arizona Desert Series
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