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Rocking the boat: Berkeley Lake revives Regatta tradition

BERKELEY LAKE - There were pirates and monsters, surfers and nappers, but the belly dancers took the top prize at Saturday's Berkeley Lake Regatta, a lost tradition revived to celebrate the city's 50th anniversary.

In the old days - when Berkeley Lake was a weekend escape from Atlanta's daily grind - its residents often held poker nights and barbecues, said Beth Gilbert, a member of the city events committee who helped plan the Regatta.

The men would stay up all night roasting a pig, talking and drinking, she said. Everyone in Berkeley Lake looked forward to the city's annual Regatta, when they would deck out their boats and parade them through the water.

But as more people began to live in the city full time, the old traditions died away.

"Since we live up here, we always see each other," Gilbert said. "There's not that immediate need to see each other, to drink and talk."

Still, Berkeley Lake prides itself on its sense of community. And what better way to celebrate turning 50 than to bring back long-lost traditions?

One vessel - dubbed the Dream Boat - sported a large bed, complete with a comforter and pillows and a star-shaped lantern hanging over the headboard via a fishing pole - and its owner, in pajamas. Another had sand, beach chairs, a surf board and bikinis hanging from its sides. Its captain, Dave Sleet, was sporting a Hawaiian shirt and sunscreen on his nose.

Dave's Surf Shop, as the craft was known, won best use of materials. Sleet, a San Diego transplant to Berkeley Lake a decade ago, said he wanted the boat to match a luau-themed barbecue that coincided with the Regatta.

Sleet and his wife, Louise Gobrom, said they enjoyed the fun-oriented community of Berkeley Lake. Elaine Myers - dressed as Lake Mother Goose, whose Fin, Fur and Feathers boat took the best theme award - said she won the last Regatta with her Chattanooga Choo-Choo-themed boat and wanted a chance to defend her title.

Myers said she likes the friendships that are generated by events such as this in the community.

"It brings everybody together," she said. "You get to see old neighbors you haven't seen for a while."

With geese hanging from the top of her boat, a giant turtle, and critters such as a raccoon and fox decorating her vessel, Myers felt confident she would take home the top prize. But that honor went to B.J.'s Belly Babes and Boys, a group of belly dancers and their husbands, clad like sultans.

B.J. Barrett said she and the other dancers had been working on their routine for weeks, after they started taking lessons earlier this year. They performed on their deck and were voted the crowd choice and most original boat.

Barrett said the best part of the evening was knowing she could come to a city event wearing her belly dance costume.

"The neighbors are so accepting of anything outrageous we might do," she said. "People appreciate it."

Pete Rolader, who founded the Berkeley Lake Homeowners Association in 1973, said he has been with the city for 40 of its 50 years. Back then, he never expected that the small town off a dirt road would become the community it is today.

But Rolader said even as smaller houses are bulldozed for larger and larger ones, Berkeley Lake maintains its small-town character.

"It's a unique place," he said. "We're five minutes away from shopping, banks, everything, but when you turn that corner, it's like a steel curtain shuts behind you and you're in the mountains. Up here, you get away from it."