Dominique Gorlitz, a former teacher from Chemnitz, Germany, says his voyage from New York Harbor to Spain would replicate ocean voyages that he believes were taking place 12,000 years before Christopher Columbus.
His vessel was towed Wednesday to the Statue of Liberty, where crew members would hoist their sail for the voyage, expected to last two months.
"We are trying to retrace the ancient waterways to prove that prehistoric people crossed the ocean both ways," Gorlitz said at a news conference.
Scholars have expressed doubt about his assertions.
"There's this 99.9 percent certainty that it didn't happen because we don't have evidence that it happened," Kenneth L. Feder, an anthropology professor at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., said in May. He is the author of "Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology."
Gorlitz said traces of tobacco and cocaine were found in the tomb of Egypt's pharaoh Ramses II, evidence of long-distance trans-Atlantic commerce during the Stone Age. He also believes cave drawings in Spain show that people living 14,000 years ago had an understanding of ocean currents.
The journey mimics the 1947 journey by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed a balsa wood raft nearly 5,000 miles from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days to prove his theory that ancient mariners could have migrated across vast stretches of ocean.
Gorlitz's boat, partly built by Aymara Indians in Bolivia and assembled at a New Jersey marina, is based on what Gorlitz says is a North African sketch dating back thousands of years. It has a crew of 11 in addition to the owner, and will take advantage of such modern amenities as a GPS satellite navigation system.
Reed boats have been around for centuries in various cultures, and are still built by Aymara living on Lake Titicaca in the Andes.