Phil Buck brings his adventure tales to Georgetown

Sally Applegate

A boat is growing in California. Along the wetlands of the California bay area, graceful reeds are waiting to take their place in history. Many of these reeds, known as tule, were harvested last summer, and have been drying ever since. The rest of the reeds will be harvested this June and July and shipped to Rowe, Mass.

Phil Buck, the adventurer who will stake his life and reputation on the endurance and safety of the 64-foot ancient style reed boat to be constructed from these 1.5 million reeds, will have the boat built from July through November in Rowe, where he lives. Next year, in March 2010, the completed boat will be trucked to Boston.

Continuing the work of his childhood idol, Kon Tiki adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, Buck and a small crew plan to sail the reed vessel from Boston to Egypt (yes, Egypt) starting in May 2010 and arriving in Egypt in November 2010. Sound impossible?

“The reed boat is one of the safest boats ever invented,” Buck told the students at Penn Brook School last week of the 2,000-year-old design. “It is one of the most buoyant and reliable vessels ever made.”

At least for a certain number of days, after which the result of reeds slowly getting waterlogged sinks it lower and lower in the water. Trips in reed boats have to match, as closely as possible, the amount of time the reed boat has before it sinks from absorbing too much sea water. In the meantime, Buck says, it is a safe and buoyant boat, as any seawater that washes over it drains through it between the reeds instead of staying aboard.

Next year’s 7,000-mile trip across the sometimes rough waters of the North Atlantic will retrace a trade route that might have existed many years before the time of the Vikings — before Christopher Columbus.

“It’s going to be a race against time as the reeds absorb water with each mile sailed,” says Buck.