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Olympic Yacht Club: all grown up at 30
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Olympic Yacht Club: all grown up at 30

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

I had arranged for my partner and me to spend a weekend aboard the Sea Racer for the Olympic Yacht Club's (OYC) 2009 Des Moines Rendezvous. The OYC is the oldest Queer yacht club in the United States, and perhaps the world. I wasn't sure what to expect.

I knew better, but there was an irrational fear lurking in the recesses of my mind that I would be tossed into the middle of a gaggle of hoary geezers in blue blazers and white duck pants talking like Thurston Howell III and drinking gin. That's not what the OYC is like at all.

An OYC event is more like a block party or a backyard barbeque, but floating on Puget Sound with gorgeous Pacific Northwest backdrops. And nobody talks like Thurston Howell III.

The OYC got its start in 1979. According to Andy Johnson, founding member, "The idea for the club was born on my sailboat in the San Juans in September 1978. My good friend, now deceased, Mark Arnold, proposed the idea to me."

Andy embraced the idea enthusiastically and the two friends posted a notice in the Dorian Society Newsletter with Andy's phone number (the Dorian Society was a major Seattle area Queer rights organization at the time). The response was surprising.

"When the notice first ran in the newsletter, my phone began to ring quite frequently with people calling to ask about it. By March 1979, Mark and I decided that it was time we got the people who had called together, which we did at my home," Johnson said.

There were about 30 people at that first meeting. The crew decided they needed a name, a constitution, bylaws, officers, and a club burgee (a nautical flag). The first outing was held in August 1979. They sailed to Port Blakely, Bainbridge Island and Andy Johnson was elected the first commodore.

The early excursions of the OYC were free-spirited boys' clubs replete with plenty of booze and sex. Johnson recalls, "A number of the early rendezvous descended into orgies and there were a lot of people who were really offended by it."

It was 1979, after all. Stonewall was a scant 10 years past and Queer communities around the nation were flush with excitement in the drive for visibility, if not gaining real social acceptance. For the first time, Queer folks had a social network, tenuous as it might have been, that made connecting safer and easier. And yes, the dudes were having a lot of sex.

Fast-forward 30 years to May of 2009. Steven and I meet our hosts, OYC's 2009 Commodore Mike Cox and his partner Mark, at the Lake Union dock where they keep the 42-foot Nordic Tug named Sea Racer. We were late. They, as they would be all weekend, were gracious and welcoming.

We sailed through the Ballard Locks (an amazing feat of piloting by Commodore Cox) and headed south on Puget Sound under a bright sun. The water was smooth and boat traffic was scarce. Along the way, we passed porpoises, seabirds, and a sea lion floating flippers-up to sun his belly. A few hours later we pulled into the Des Moines Marina for a weekend of food, fun, and conversation that the OYC calls the 2009 Des Moines Rendezvous.

The OYC looks considerably different today than it did in 1979. The parties are a bit more staid and the boats (and membership) have grown over the years. Also, women play a larger role in the club these days (about 30% attending the Des Moines Rendezvous were women).

In fact, membership is a nice cross-section of the Queer community. There are couples and singles, men and women, mature folks and 20-somethings, and lots and lots of dogs. As the Queer community has grown up and taken its place in American society, so has the OYC.

"We have more couples and families with children, which is fun," Commodore Cox said, "There are a lot of great people in this club, some of whom have been boating for 50 years or more. It's great to show up at a marina or anchorage and have a lot of other LGBT folk to hang out with."

And that's what I keep hearing from long time members as well as new ones: It's all about the people. Johnson says, "The best thing for me about OYC is the many, enduring friendships I've made over the years the club has been in existence." At the other end of the spectrum is Court Percival, a younger sailor who's been an OYC member for less than a year. When asked what he likes most about being a member Percival puts it succinctly: "The fellowship."

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