Metro

Revere man plans to float across Boston Harbor in a 500-pound pumpkin

Revere resident Christian Ilsley has been carefully tending to the gargantuan “Atlantic Giant” pumpkin, for which he has big ambitions.

David L. Ryan/Globe staff

Revere resident Christian Ilsley has been carefully tending to the gargantuan “Atlantic Giant” pumpkin, for which he has big ambitions.

REVERE — “Want to see a big [expletive] pumpkin?”

It was the first thing Christian Ilsley said as he opened his front gate to welcome a Globe reporter.

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He wasn’t kidding about the size. Tipping the scale at around 500 pounds and growing, the bulbous, orange lump that’s been thriving in his modest backyard is massive.

For the last several months, the 31-year-old West Roxbury native has been carefully tending to the gargantuan “Atlantic Giant” pumpkin, for which he has big ambitions.

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Ilsley’s not just going to carve a grin into the pumpkin and prop it on his front lawn for Halloween. Instead, he plans to hollow out his creation, plop it into Boston Harbor, and use it as a seafaring vessel, as he paddles from Jeffries Point in East Boston to the Fish Pier and back.

“That was kind of my crazy main goal,” he said, standing next to the pumpkin, which came above his knees. “I just wanted to grow the biggest pumpkin I could in my backyard. But I was just like, ‘All right, I have got to do something with it that’s insane, or fun.’ And I was like, ‘That would be [expletive] amazing if I crossed the harbor — in a pumpkin.’ ”

The idea of turning a pumpkin into a kayak of sorts might sound absurd, but it’s been done before — and right here in Massachusetts.

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Last year, Easton resident Todd Sandstrum paddled a 1,240-pound pumpkin for 8 miles on the Taunton River, in an attempt to set a new world record.

Videos of “pumpkin regattas,” where participants step into “mega-fruits” with motors attached at the back, litter YouTube. One is even coming up in Maine next month.

Ilsley’s pumpkin infatuation began last September, when he attended the Topsfield Fair with his girlfriend, Tina Wood.

After feasting his eyes on the plethora of large pumpkins entered into the fair’s “All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off,” he decided to return home and transform the couple’s Revere backyard into a pumpkin-growing science lab.

“I said, ‘Oh, man. I can do that,’ ” said Ilsley, who grew up with a green thumb.

Following intense research, Ilsley, an avid fisherman and employee at Wulf’s Fish, settled on the purchase of “Atlantic Giant” seeds.

He began the growing process inside his basement and later transferred the strongest plants to a minigreenhouse in his backyard.

To spur rapid growth, he created a hybrid fertilizer that included more than 100 pounds of horse manure and seaweed, which he said adds organic nutrients to the soil.

In July, he hand-pollinated what would become his prized pumpkin. Then he played the waiting game, although he didn’t need to wait very long.

Once the pumpkin started to grow, it showed no signs of slowing down. There were days when Ilsley would come out to his backyard to find the pumpkin had ballooned another 22 pounds, seemingly overnight.

“[These] pumpkins, in general, grow insanely fast, once they start going,” said Ilsley, who documented the rapid growth in a composition notebook, from start to finish. “When it was 10 pounds, the next day it was 14. And the next day after that, it was 19. And on, and on, and on.”

On Sept. 29, Ilsley will finally cut the pumpkin from its vine. To get it out of his backyard, he’ll need to tear down part of his fence because the pumpkin won’t fit through the metal gate that leads to the street.

“That’s going to be an ordeal,” he said.

He’ll stop by the Topsfield Fair, not to enter the pumpkin in a competition, but to connect with other farmers and get advice on how to grow an even bigger one next year. Then he’ll start the process of turning it into a boat. He’ll get the help of friends with vessels to guide him on his journey from Jeffries Point to the pier. Ilsley might even attach an outboard motor to it, or some foam, to make the trip easier and keep it afloat.

“It’s definitely not impossible,” he said. “And I’m definitely going to try — as long as it doesn’t fall apart.”

The pumpkin tips the scale at around 500 pounds and growing

David L. Ryan/Globe staff

The pumpkin tips the scale at around 500 pounds and growing

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.
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