Can one Reddit user go down the Charles River in a pumpkin boat? It’s not as unusual as you might think.

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It’s apparently one Reddit user’s dream to journey down the Charles River in a pumpkin boat.

A man is seen paddling in a boat made out of a giant pumpkin in Maine, with a crowd of spectators behind him.
Pumpkin regattas, like the Damariscotta, Maine, event pictured here, are competitions where people race each other in pumpkin boats. Courtesy of Lisa Conway Macnair with the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta

It’s not uncommon for unusual local sightings or requests to make their way on the Boston subReddit. That would apparently include an ask to borrow a forklift, as user Benjamin621 did this week. 

Their post went viral locally, not just because they asked to borrow a forklift, but also why they asked to borrow a forklift. 

“It is my life’s dream to row a giant pumpkin down the Charles River and I have finally saved up enough money to purchase one, but I just found out from the pumpkin grower that I need a forklift to receive it (as it is 1000 pounds),” Benjamin621 said.

Help borrowing forklift to ride a pumpkin down the Charles River
byu/Benjamin621 inboston

Some confused comments from other users followed, calling the request “absurd” and something one might ask while under the influence. 

Others cheered on the original poster, asking Benjamin621 to put the details in the thread so they could watch this offbeat nautical journey, which Benjamin621 hopes will happen Oct. 14. 

But most knew what the OP was getting at: They wanted to eventually turn the giant pumpkin into a boat, then row down the river while in the pumpkin boat, which is a thing that happens.

Many people before Benjamin621 have paddled New England waters aboard a pumpkin vessel, and there are even events — “pumpkin regattas” — that make a day out of rowing in boats made out of the gourd. 

How to build a pumpkin boat

Before you paddle your own pumpkin boat, there are a few things to know. Lisa Conway Macnair, co-chair of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta, said they have two different kinds of pumpkin boats they use in their annual regatta: paddle boats and, believe it or not, motored pumpkin boats. 

She said the gourds you paddle at the Damariscotta event, which takes place during the Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday weekend, weigh about 400 to 600 pounds. The motored pumpkin boats are much bigger, weighing 900 pounds or more. 

Macnair said construction of the paddle boats is “easy” — you just cut a hole in the pumpkin, usually the flat side (or the side the pumpkin was sitting on while it grew), then you hollow it out so you can hop in and paddle.

But the motored boats require a bit more work so they can hold up while a motor is attached. It’s the same process of cutting a hole you can fit into, hollowing it out — albeit a little bit more work since it’s a bigger gourd. Then you add flotation devices that can support a 10-horsepower motor. 

These big gourds usually have a deck made out of plywood for the boat rider to sit on. Decorating all the boats is encouraged, but at events like the Damariscotta festival, the three motored boats are especially decked out. 

Sometimes wooden houses are built atop the pumpkin boat. Horse cutouts are attached to the front. Or gnomes decorate the edge of the deck. 

Is it safe?

At an event like the Damariscotta Regatta, or the Goffstown Pumpkin Regatta, it is — though they will make you sign a waiver.

Jaja Martin, both an experienced sailor and a pumpkin boating enthusiast, said part of the fun is capsizing, which these boats will do. Especially the smaller-sized pumpkins.

“They’re not very stable,” said Martin, who added that just about everyone racing in paddle boats at the Damariscotta event capsizes, sometimes right at the dock upon getting into the slimy gourd.

Jim Beauchemin, who started the Goffstown event in 2000 after seeing photos of a similar activity done in Nova Scotia, said the boats need ballast to stay afloat. To do that, Beauchemin adds at least 100 pounds of sand to the several boats raced in the New Hampshire regatta.

“You can do it without ballasting, but it’s a real tipsy ride,” Beauchemin said. “I wouldn’t want to go to the Charles River without ballasting one.”

At the Goffstown event, which takes place Oct. 15, they also only use pumpkins that weigh 1,000 pounds or more. It’s the person at the helm’s choice if they want a motor or just a paddle.

It should be mentioned that these events, which both happen on rivers, are well resourced with divers or rescue teams in case anything goes wrong, and the gourd paddlers are suited up with life jackets and even wetsuits (in case they accidentally go in for a cold dip).

But that hasn’t stopped individuals from braving the waters on their own, sometimes traveling miles and for half a day in their 1,000-pound gourds. 

Taking off from Jeffries Yacht Club in East Boston, Christian Ilsley pilots his pumpkin boat around Boston Harbor for about an hour in 2017. It was built from his giant pumpkin, scrap wood, 100 feet of rope, 44 screws, a yacht bumper, and dock foam — and powered by a Suzuki Four Stroke 4HP motor. Rob Cortes, his engineer, said it took “a few drinks and six hours to construct.” Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

Just six years ago, one Revere man traveled from East Boston across the Boston Harbor and back in a pumpkin with a motor attached. When he asked the U.S. Coast Guard if he could, they responded via email “(we) wish that you were not crossing the channel,” but The Boston Globe reports that they didn’t stop him. 

Before him, a Taunton man set out to break a record by traveling eight miles via pumpkin. He made it five miles from the Taunton Yacht Club before he got too tired to finish.

Will Benjamin621 join the list of those who helmed giant pumpkins across bodies of water? reached out to the Reddit user but didn’t hear back, and though commenters continued to ask if this request that captivated many was real or if Benjamin621 ever got their forklift, we just don’t know.

Forklift pumpkin boat guy
byu/YogaCookingQueen inboston

It appears one can paddle a canoe or kayak down the Charles River, so rowing around in a big and well-crafted pumpkin boat seems plausible enough. But should you? 

“I would do it in an instance because I’ve raced the boats,” Beauchemin said. “If you’re not experienced, it might be a good idea to get a little experience.”