"Garth and I realized that the cork boat didn't matter less," said Pollack. "It mattered more, because in this world that had gone topsy-turvy in this, you know, time of murder and hatred, that humanity depended on not surrendering to that kind of evil."
With a new perspective and a collective drive to get the boat finished by the launch date, Pollack put his political skills to use in search of more corks.
"A manager calls me and says, 'listen, we have this guy, he wants to build a cork boat, he's after some corks, what do you think?'" said Jochen Michalski, president of Cork Supply Group, one of the world's largest manufacturers and suppliers of cork.
"We thought this was kind of crazy, but … very quickly we decided we were going to support it," Michalski said. His company donated 100,000 corks, and Pollack's team began working furiously to complete the boat.
On Columbus Day 2001 the team finished its "2-ton hippopotamus," a 22-foot-long Viking ship made out of 166,000 wine corks.
Pollack and Goldstein decided to take their maiden voyage down the Douro River in Portugal.
After a mad scramble to assemble oars and a sail followed by a test run in Washington's Potomac River, Pollack, Goldstein, Pollack's parents, some very faithful volunteers and one cork boat arrived in Portugal and set sail.
The boat became a Portuguese media sensation.
"The whole country started following these crazy Americans, who were on this goofy mission," said Pollack. "When we would walk into any village along the way, people would say 'Cork boat! Cork boat!'"
As the cork boat made its way slowly down the Douro, Pollack learned a few things about happiness.
"It was fun to see so many happy about the boat. You get moments of perfection, and moments of happiness," he said. "I don't know that I've ever been happier, but being happy is like being on top of a mountain. You take in the air, and this great view, and then you see another mountain in the distance and that's another peak in your life."
"I think that people just need to have faith in themselves and in their own dreams, that maybe they don't turn out exactly the way we imagine them to, but if you trust yourself enough to follow them, that the following them will bring you happiness. Everyone has a cork boat in their life of one sort of another," Pollack said.
As the ship pulled into port, Pollack was reminded of the missing crew member.
"Sara would have been on the boat cheering with the rest of us," Pollack said. "But you know, I used to think that good times, you know, cancel out the tragedy. They don't. But the bad things happen in life. The good things, you really have to reach for, and so we reach for them. And you savor them."