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Sunday, May 6, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Police officer creates an Elvis float-illa for boating's Opening Day

Seattle Times staff reporter

Myth is all wet

Is Seattle the boating capital of the nation? In a word, no. That's a myth that originated in a 1953 story in the Saturday Evening Post magazine. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, in 2005, Florida had more recreational-boat registrations than any state in the country. It was followed by California and Michigan. It doesn't keep statistics by cities, only states. Washington was No. 16.

It was during one of his long, daily 4 a.m. driving commutes from Bremerton to Seattle that the vision appeared to Don Hardgrove.

And what a vision it was.

During Saturday's Opening Day of boating season at the Montlake Cut, spectators on shore were startled to see a giant floating Elvis head — about 22 feet high and 11 feet wide, constructed on a 42-foot cruiser.

"This was pretty awesome," said Andrew Kocher, 26, watching the parade along with two buddies. "I mean, the eyebrows and stuff."

This wasn't just a floating Elvis head. It had lips that moved, eyebrows that arched and was surrounded by 11 Elvis impersonators doing those patented stage moves.

Boats participating in the annual parade are judged in various categories, including best-decorated, by the Seattle Yacht Club.

While the boat was docked on Friday waiting for the parade, Hardgrove, a Seattle police detective, watched the curious stop by.

"They just stand there and stare," he said. "I mean, just stare."

Opening Day is one of those Seattle standards, like Seafair and Husky football. Saturday marked its 87th year at Montlake, with 317 boats entered in the parade and an additional 1,000 boats of spectators along log booms.

Hardgrove said he doesn't know why the Elvis vision appeared to him last December. He likes Elvis music — but not enough to own any Elvis CDs.

But during his daily commute, Hardgrove has plenty of time to think. He starts his shift at 5:30 a.m. working narcotics; there are no ferries running that can get to him to Seattle on time, so he has to drive south to Tacoma and then back up to Seattle.

Hardgrove belongs to the Bremerton Yacht Club, which sponsored the Elvis boat.

It wasn't easy making a vision come to life, especially because the club initially allocated $1,150 for Elvis, increasing it by $500 for the Elvis costumes.

An Elvis wig sells for $20 on the Internet.

To save money, the white jumpsuits were made of Tyvek, the synthetic, water-resistant material wrapped around homes under construction. The group also bought sunglasses at a dollar store and spray-painted the frames an Elvis-like gold.

During his long daily drive, Hardgrove mapped out how to make his vision come true.

He found a picture of Elvis, superimposed it on an image of the boat and made a scale drawing on graph paper. Then he drew in tiny Elvis impersonators.

Hardgrove owns a 36-foot sailboat, but it was Mike Ryan, another club member, who volunteered his boat for Elvis.

Making the giant Elvis head meant plenty of trips to Home Depot. The skeleton, built from PVC pipe, was draped with heavy-duty canvas screwed onto chicken wire. The hair and the "glass" in Elvis' 15-foot sunglasses were made from several hundred feet of black synthetic weed-blocker fabric. The lips were foam.

The mechanics in the Elvis head were simple — the lips and eyebrows are moved manually by pulleys.

Elvis was in category "P," for a decorated boat that had a sponsor. Its competition included a boat made up to look like the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, and a boat with people dressed as if they were in "Gone With the Wind."

In the late afternoon, Hardgrove and his crew got the judges' decision: Elvis was No. 1, winning the Bremerton Yacht Club entrants a certificate and their names engraved on a permanent trophy kept at the Seattle Yacht Club.

By then, Elvis had literally left the building. Volunteers demolished the head for the return trip to Bremerton, and large chunks were headed for the dump.

But not to worry. The Elvis vision — at least part of it — will live on.

Hardgrove said he plans to give the hair, made from that weed-screen mesh, to club members for their gardens.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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