On the prairies of Illinois, Quen Cultra labored in his barnyard on another absurdity: building a boat to sail around the world.
When he built the first one 40 years earlier, farmers called it "Cultra's Ark." He preferred "Queequeg" from the classic "Moby Dick." He harpooned the ridicule by indeed circling the Earth, even surviving a hurricane. He even wrote a book about it.
Now Cultra was in his 60s, no longer the lean former football player just out of college. Though white-haired and heavier, he still exuded derring-do and country charm. The voyage would reprise how a real estate manager from rural America could conquer the seas, though he lived far from water.
He invited his friend Leo Sherman to join. Why not, Sherman thought. Both men were from nearby towns in rural Iroquois County, Illinois. Sherman considered Cultra a gentle and hardworking man, passionate about family and his ideals. They became fast friends.
Joining them was Joe Strykowski of Florida, a marine naturalist and diver with a big smile. He met Cultra at a celestial navigation class that Cultra taught for years in Chicago.
Now that they were done raising kids, the three men were ready for an adventure. They found it aboard the Queequeg II, a 43-foot catamaran that Cultra built in a landlocked plain.
But their journey ended in disaster when two powerful storms upended the catamaran off the coast of Africa.
It has taken four years for Sherman to publicly speak about what happened during those fateful days.
His tale is of the everyman who, at some point in life, finds himself staring into an abyss of hopelessness -- and then discovers the world still has one last act of charity in it, enough to save your life.
Rainbows, killer whales and kangaroos
When the Queequeg II left U.S. soil off the Florida Keys on August 23, 2007, Leo Sherman didn't know if he would like sailing.
The endless horizons of the sea changed that.
He didn't know life could be so good, traveling to Belize, Australia, Timor, Christmas Island and Mauritius.
Sherman celebrated his 55th birthday in Panama, where he learned some Spanish and woke to monkeys howling in the distance as the boat journeyed through the canal.
Their journey was supposed to last two years. Family and friends occasionally joined, becoming new crew. Sherman even left the voyage to undergo hip surgery, returning to the boat several months later in Australia.
Days passed with three-margarita afternoons, long siestas, feeding birds at his shoulder, and fishing on a crude reel made of line and a spool.
He saw double rainbows, pods of killer whales, kangaroos and shooting stars.
At 6-foot-1, he was the tallest man in the village of Kupang, Timor -- and "a few shades lighter," he quipped. There, the crew talked themselves out of a 1 million rupee ($500) fine for failing to give notice of arrival to customs officials. They ended up paying $150.
He wore a skirt in Bali. The crew also climbed an inactive volcano.
In between it all were moments where he emptied his soul into the ocean.
"I spent a lot of time on the back of the boat thinking about things," he said.
A rising wall of water
The Queequeg crew spent Christmas 2008 in Mauritius. It took 23½ days to arrive at the Indian Ocean isle from Christmas Island.
"That was a beautiful sight to see that island," Sherman said.
By January 16, 2009, the crew was anxious to travel to nearby Madagascar and the African continent.