Duane Hansen says he knew if he wanted to break the world record for pumpkin sailing, he had to grow the pumpkin himself.
A farmer in Nebraska who's been growing 200–400-pound gourds for a decade, Hansen appeared well-suited for the task.
So, when his giant pumpkin, Berta, started adding 15 pounds per day, he got to work on his plan to turn it into a makeshift boat, one he says would carry him 38 miles down the Missouri River, from Bellevue to Nebraska City.
This past Saturday, in an 846-pound pumpkin, on the day after he turned 60, he set sail, hoping to beat the Guinness World Record of 25 miles.
When asked by ABC News if he had a few minutes to talk about his experience, he chuckled and said, of course, he was just drinking a beer to pass the time.
He described how, before he could send his pumpkin down the river, he had to hollow it out and make sure it would float. With only one viable pumpkin big enough to hold him, he couldn't afford to slip up, he said.
"You got to look at that pumpkin and, and go, well, what do I got to do to get this ready to go down the river for 38 miles? And that's what I did." His trick, he said: simple common sense.
"You know, I didn't go to college or nothing. I can't say I'm that smart of a guy, but I'm saying I understand physics," he said. "Common sense will get you a long ways."
The first step, he said, was making a boat that would float. But with a misshaped, nearly 850-pound pumpkin, Hansen said he had to ask, which way is up?
So, he built a cement hot tub to test his pumpkin's buoyancy. "I wanted to float it so I can see where the top is. Because, you know, it's not a round pumpkin. And I'm thinking, if I'm going down the river in this thing, I want to sit in the very top, so it's level at least," he said.
After hauling his massive pumpkin into his homemade hot tub, he marked the top, cut it out, and carved out of the inside.
At this point, the vessel itself was upright, he said. But his backyard hot tub was not the Missouri River. Using a forklift and a boat trailer, he hauled his pumpkin-boat down to the riverbank.
"And this whole time when I'm moving this pumpkin, it can drop. You can have so many things that can go wrong. And I was lucky. I mean, I put a lot of thought into it," he said. "But still, there's always something I ain't thinking about that can go wrong."
At 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Hansen said, he boarded his floating pumpkin vessel for his nearly 12-hour journey. His wife, kids, other family and friends followed alongside should something go awry.
He claims he broke the world record at 2:52 p.m. and completed his journey to Nebraska City around 6:30 p.m.
Hansen had hoped it would be an 8 to 10-hour expedition. "I was wrong," he groaned. With the current moving about 3.5 miles per hour downstream, his trip lasted an exhausting 12 hours.
He said he wasn't confident he would make it.
For fuel, his support boat provided "a sandwich and they had beers on the boat, you know, stuff like that." Other than that, "they can't help you. You know, for the record, I mean, I'm on my own, basically," he said.
The trip, according to Hansen and friends, was grueling.
"I cannot stand up. No. Because if I stood up in there, just straight, it was probably going over, and I didn't want to take that chance," he said. "I've been working on this for five years. I don't want to screw it up just because I want to stand up and stretch my knees, you know? I had a hard time standing up once I got out of the pumpkin and I had to stand there for a minute or two or three. My knees hurt pretty bad."
The pumpkin boat bobbled and tipped, he said, making it a challenge to navigate.
"It's like taking a cork that's four-by-four-by-four feet and cutting a hole in it. And trying to sit in it and balance in that water and it is tough. You gotta pay attention 100% of the time."
A major concern was the pumpkin would get swamped or flip over. "Every time a boat went by, you just have to take that pumpkin and you'd have to ride with it and ride them out until the waves settle down. That was one of the worst things," he said.
No sailing journey would be complete without having to deal with the elements. Eight miles north of Nebraska City, it started raining, and Hansen, wearing only jean shorts and a tank top, says he got cold.
"I thought, I'll just paddle harder and warm up," he told the Omaha World-Herald. "I went another 4 to 5 miles and it rained again. Berta was only about eight inches above the water line. I've never paid so much attention for so long in my entire life."
Ten years ago, failure after failure, he said, he was inspired by a giant pumpkin growing seminar in Portland, Oregon.
"I saw a deal on a table where this lady had actually floated a pumpkin down a river, and she's in the Guinness Book of World Records," he said. "I'm like, I want to do that. That is my goal right there."
On Saturday, Hansen said, he was spotted by spectators along the river, to his surprise. "You got to understand, I didn't do this for the attention. And I didn't think many people knew about it. And that's fine with me because I just wanted the record going down the river."
But having people cheering him on was indescribable, he said.
"That last, I don't know, two or three miles, I was tired. I was cold from being rained on. It was a long 2-3 miles. And I come around the corner and I see the marina and there was probably, I don't even know, 100 or 150 people there cheering, " he said. "And I'm like, 'Oh my God, oh, my God."'
Members of the City of Bellevue's mayor's office witnessed and documented his journey for the Guinness Book of World Records on Facebook. Guinness officials could not be reached for comment.
So, what's next for Hansen? He and his daughter have some even bigger plans, literally. "She said dad, so I got this idea. Why don't you grow a pumpkin that's big enough for two people to get in and we'll go down the river. So, I'm actually considering that if I can get a pumpkin big enough."
One capable of holding two people would need to be between 1800-2000 pounds.