THE OPEN SEAS — When Christian Ilsley told friends and family he planned to grow a massive pumpkin in his Revere backyard, hardly anyone batted an eyelash.
Later, when he proclaimed his intentions to hollow out the pumpkin and float across the Boston Harbor while sitting inside, still, no one was too surprised. Those closest to Ilsley say he’s full of grandiose ideas — and is known for following through.
“If there’s something odd to be done, he’ll do it,” said Ilsley’s father, Steve Ilsley. “Once he puts his mind to something it gets done, no matter how crazy it is.”
On Sunday morning around 8:30, before most people had washed the sleep from their eyes, Ilsley executed what may have been his zaniest plan to date.
The West Roxbury native squeezed his body into the 520-pound Atlantic Giant pumpkin that he nurtured for months in the confines of his garden, as a friend using a crane lowered him into the water at Jeffries Yacht Club, in East Boston.
After getting his bearings, Ilsley took a puff of a cigarette, ripped the cord on the small motor he affixed to the hollowed pumpkin, and set out on his voyage to the Boston Fish Pier and back.
Under a cloudless blue sky, Ilsley’s pumpkin boat — supported by wood planks, 100 feet of rope, 44 screws, and bits of foam to keep it from sinking — puttered from the docks and bobbed toward the open channel.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first,” he would say later. “And getting like comfortable inside of it.”
Harbor traffic was light, and three boats packed with supporters accompanied Ilsley’s fruit vessel to ensure his safety.
Before his excursion, Ilsley contacted the United States Coast Guard, he said. In an e-mail, they told Ilsley they “wish that you were not crossing the channel,” but took into account safety measures he put in place and didn’t stop him.
Ilsley stayed focused as he navigated the ocean wearing a blue-and-yellow life vest and traveling at 2 miles per hour. Within 30 minutes, he managed to cross most of the channel without issue.
A few times during the first leg of the trip to the pier, boats cut through Ilsley’s path, creating a wake. The first boat was a water taxi whose operator craned his neck in disbelief as Ilsley floated by.
“It’s a pumpkin!” Granville Harris, the father of one of Ilsley’s friends, shouted to the operator.
Later, during a more tense moment, a large, gleaming white yacht crossed in front of Ilsley. The ship’s smooth sides tore through the waters, as waves rippled toward Ilsley’s pumpkin.
“That doesn’t look good,” Harris said.
Everyone braced for impact. But the pumpkin boat rose and fell with the green waves, without taking on water. Friends and family cheered the small victory. Ilsley laughed and kept moving.
Just past 9 a.m., Ilsley touched his hand against the stone wall of the Fish Pier, determination in his eyes.
“It’s a [expletive] journey,” he shouted across the water.
Wasting no time he pushed off, turned the boat around, and hit the gas as he headed back to East Boston.
The return voyage was much smoother, and Ilsley was noticeably more comfortable. But along the way, a piece of driftwood tripped up Ilsley, bringing the boat to a brief stop. Ilsley reached down into the water, and a passenger on one of the safety boats let out an “uh oh.”
Ilsley pulled up the piece of wood, examined it, and shouted: “That’s not from my boat. That’s not mine!” He revved the engine and took off again.
By 9:40 a.m., Ilsley was safely back where he started, his vision realized and mission complete.
“Woo!” he exclaimed.
Ilsley, a fishing enthusiast who grew up on boats, steadied his sea legs after docking the pumpkin. Those who followed him across the channel crowded around a grinning Ilsley as he recounted the journey. He was feeling good, if not a little shaky, he said.
“It was awesome,” Ilsley said without hesitation.
He was already thinking and talking about the next pumpkin he plans to grow, and boat he plans to make.
“That’s victory right there,” he said. “Absolutely. [Expletive] yeah.”