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Pat Douglass steers his 31-foot cabin cruiser, the "Wet Rat," away from its slip at Pier 121 Marina and slowly motors through the "no wake" zone on Lewisville Lake, about 20 miles north of Dallas. His business partner stands on the bow and watches boat traffic. His fiancee stands at his side on the bridge. Douglass wears a goatee and a star-spangled 'do rag over his thinning gray hair. Even at the helm, he looks more biker than boater.
Douglass, a Dallas-based dealer in used printer cartridges when he's not on the lake, is celebrating his 62nd birthday on this particular Saturday. He's also doing what he's done just about every weekend for the past five years both summer and winter. He's taking his boat and a load of people to a place on Lewisville Lake known as the "party cove," an enormous informal gathering of boaters where the women get naked and just about everyone gets drunk.
It's an incredible and, by most accounts, growing weekend summer party scene that looks like a water-logged Bourbon Street and feels like a friendly neighborhood bar. It's a place mostly for single twenty- to fifty-somethings where partygoers form friendships and make business contacts.
As the Wet Rat pulls into the party cove, scores of swimmers drift and bob in the bathtub-warm water, clutching cans of beer, wine coolers and glasses of champagne. Some have their dogs floating in inner tubes or wearing life jackets. Some carry cans of beer from boat to boat and socialize. Some just lounge on the lake.
Douglass drives his cabin cruiser near the banks of an old dam on the western side of the lake. He backs up to a smaller boat and ties onto it. In just a few minutes, another boat is tied onto the other side of the Wet Rat and a line of boats begins to form like cars in a drive-in movie.
Those who are already at the party cove know Douglass. They wave or yell a greeting. Out here, Douglass shares his boat with all comers--as well as his drinks and, sometimes, his photographs of naked women from the party cove. Out here, Douglass, like his boat, is known as the Wet Rat. Out here, he isn't a used printer cartridge dealer. He is king, and this is his domain.
Rumor has it that Wet Rat's approaching wedding at the party cove (to a woman he met there last year) may put an end to his reign. He says no; even when he's married he'll still be a regular part of what cove people say is the wildest, best and most uninhibited summer weekend party spot anywhere near Dallas.
"All you need to be welcome out here is a boat or a ride out here on a boat," Douglass says.
Exhaust from sputtering generators wafts up from the water where dozens swim around with drinks in their hands. Music from competing sound systems blares across the water, and boat owners confess that a good set of speakers is a point of pride.
"Guys will sink a fortune into a speaker system--maybe $5,000--so they can hear the music as they wake-board. They use long-projection speakers," says one regular, who gave his name as "Diesel."
But apart from the music from various radios, on the water, the party cove doesn't seem much different from a happy hour at Hooters--except that it has a lot more hooters. A woman in the next boat who has a map of Texas tattooed on her left breast throws Jell-O shots in little plastic containers to swimmers and people on the boats.
Just about everybody drinks, and before long, just about everybody seems to be affected, which is all right, because that seems to be the reason people go to the party cove in the first place.
Douglass says he started coming to the cove shortly after he got his boat five years ago. He'd been a jet skier and raced sailboats before he bought the Wet Rat. The first time he came out to the cove, he says, he tied up to small boats, a sort of breach of etiquette because the usually snobby big-boat owners only tied up together, he says. At the party cove back then, the small boats sort of stayed in one cluster and the big ones in another.
Douglass also let occupants from small boats start using his boat's toilet, something much appreciated by women from speedboats, he says. It wasn't long before his boat became a place where anybody could go to use the restroom, escape the heat or get help.