PORT CLINTON, Ohio - His is the story of the old man and the sea who had to abandon his small sailboat. It was heavily damaged by a Pacific Ocean storm and he was plucked by rescuers thousands of miles from nearest land. He wanted to return to those waters to see if his abandoned boat is still drifting.
At age 85, Thomas Louis Corogin of Port Clinton, looks deeply into the photographs and video he took of his beloved 32-foot sailboat, TLC, named for his initials, and longs for the small craft that is really his home. It is the sailboat he was forced to abandon when two storms damaged the craft as Corogin was attempting to sail solo around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America.
"The storm broke my lower backstay and my mast started to come down," said Corogin, adding he tried to repair the mast with rope.
However, another storm off the coast of Chile hammered TLC a second time and his makeshift repairs could not withstand the high winds and heaving seas.
"I lost all steering and I could no longer sail because the mast was loose," said the sailor. "It was such a mass of stainless steel tubing that I just couldn't do it."
At this point, he had been 22 straight days at sea. During most of that time, he said he had never seen another boat nor airplane. Now, with the storm lifting the sailboat out of the water and pushing it wildly, Corogin scanned the scene. There was nothing but water and the sky.
He was alone and the storm was unrelenting and unforgiving. The jangle of the broken mast and other metal parts of the boat accented the terrible scream of the wind.
It was then he triggered an emergency beacon, asking for help from any ships in the vicinity. In the Pacific waters hundreds of miles off the west coast of Chile, there are few vessels. Eventually, miles away, his emergency call was picked up and a wide-sweeping distress call was broadcasted for any ship in the area.
A Japanese freighter, White Kingdom, was 350 miles away. Its captain ordered the freighter to change course and head for Corogin's location, which he had listed in his distress call. The crew of the freighter pulled him, with an injured leg, from his storm-beaten sailboat.
With Corogin aboard, the freighter moved on, returning to its scheduled route as TLC continued to bob in the ocean. The small sailboat, now without its captain and only passenger, bounced in the endless waves of the sea.
"The law of the sea is to rescue people; not property," Corogin said, lamenting the fact he had to leave behind the sailboat that he had had trucked from Port Clinton on the shores of Lake Erie to San Diego, where he had cast off.
It was from Southern California that Corogin set sail, not only for the southern hemisphere, but for the southernmost point of South America. He had stopped in Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, picking up supplies in each country. The leg from San Diego itself had taken many weeks. From Ecuador, he ventured out again to what was planned to be the longest part of his trip.
Corogin and TLC left the northern hemisphere and crossed the equator, sailing from winter into summer in the southern part of the world. With his sail filled with moving air.
"I elected to not sail along the coast of Chile because the winds are not favorable there," said Corogin, clasping his hands at a small table in his living room, where a collage of photographs of him and his boat hung on the wall overhead.
The cape, where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans converge, has long been known as a treacherous place because of its high winds and rocky coastline. It is the last landmass immediately north of Antarctica.
Corogin and TLC never reached Cape Horn. More than a thousand miles west of the tip of South American was when the two storms hit hard.
Aboard the freighter, the ship's photographer captured images of Corogin treated by medical personnel. His beard was long and scraggy, and he looked as if he had weathered the storms that had pummeled his boat. As Corogin was treated, fed and rested, the Japanese freighter made contact with the Chilean Navy, announcing it had saved the sailor stranded on the sea. The Navy sent a helicopter to pull Corogin from the deck of the freighter.
Video from the Chilean Navy shows Corogin in a sling, being lifted from the deck of the freighter to the helicopter. As he hung in the sling, he was cranked toward the helicopter hovering over the Pacific. During those moments, he hung between the aircraft and the deck of freighter with the expanse of the ocean from horizon to horizon, Corogin thought of his sailboat.
"In the back of my mind was the hope that maybe the boat would drift into shore," he said. After Corogin was further treated for the injuries to his leg, feted by the Chileans, saluted for his bravery, and interviewed by television reporters, Corogin came home.
His is the story of a sailor in love with the sea.
"I have been sailing since I was 8 years old."
That was in 1935 when a relative gave him his first small
sailboat that Corogin sailed solo in Lake Erie near the shoreline of Lorain, which was his home. Corogin said sailing became an important part of his life after his first sailing adventure.
In 1945, he caught the tail end of World War II, serving as a U.S. Navy electrician. His love the sea never diminished. Over the last several decades, Corogin has sailed the Atlantic Ocean nine times, two of them solo.
When asked why he began looking toward the Pacific Ocean and Cape Horn, he answered quickly.
"I wondered where else I could sail because I've made that trip to Europe so many times," he said, running his weathered hands over his well-line face.
Several times he attempted the sail around Cape Horn, but there were always reasons to turn back and never complete the mission. A giant map of the world hangs in his hallway where there are lines that show the places he has sailed. Both the Atlantic and the Pacific each have several lines.
"One reason I go sailing is because of the reception I receive in places," he said.
His home in Port Clinton is at a marina that he manages. He steps sprightly among the 150 slips for boats that are under his auspices. His own property drops right down to the inlet of Lake Erie.
"I often take my motorboat over to Kelly's Island for dinner," he offered without hesitation. The island, which has around-the-year residents, is a popular Lake Erie tourist attraction, especially during the warmer months of the year. Corogin is well-known on the island and throughout the Port Clinton area.
In the home that has no television, but he does have a computer, which Corogin uses to stay apprised of events in the world. Corogin is content living on the water. There is no doubt he wishes to live his life always near water as he has done most of his life.
It was 35 years ago, he was divorced. Living alone now, he has photographs of his children and grandchildren in the modest home built at the water's edge, within sight are many sailboats and powered boats, owned by others who live in the marina's housing complex. They are only steps away from the deck of his home.
Corogin's shock of white hair falls easily over his well-tanned skin. He is trim and seemingly fit, walking with a bounce in his step as he glides through the rooms of his home. His arms are muscular and his stomach as flat as the blade of a knife. On the walls are references to the sea and things nautical -- paintings, photographs, a clock inside a helmsman's wheel.
His front windows offer a sweeping view of the inlet of water coming in from the wider Lake Erie.
Everything in and around Corogin is nautical. He is proud of his ship's log, where he has detailed the day-to-day events and thoughts of one of his sailings in the Atlantic and Pacific.
At 85, Corogin appears to be a man at peace with himself.
"I have no plans on retiring, " he said, his voice strong and assuring. "I believe you work until you drop."
Corogin has no fear of the sea. It has long been his friend. When asked if he preferred to sail with a small crew or solo, his answer again was without hesitation.
"I don't want to be on someone else's schedule," he said with his eyes looking off into space.
Before winter, which would be summer in the southern hemisphere fall, he plans to go to Chile again and begin a search for the sailboat he was forced to abandon in January.
He figures the sailboat, caught by westerly winds, has drifted into a cove somewhere along the Chilean coastline.
"I'll check on the records on wind direction and any unusual storms which would deviate it from the course," said the man with 77 years experience under his belt.
Corogin plans to meet with Chilean Navy officers to help him plot where TLC may be if, indeed, she is still afloat. However, the coastline of Chile is long and there could be hundreds of places where the 32-foot sailboat could have drifted.
Even in his sleep, Corogin said his thoughts are of the ocean, which he said give him "a deep satisfaction." He said he thinks often of TLC, with its name printed boldly on the boat's white hull and "Port Clinton, Ohio" painted below the name. Between the "L" and the "C" of the boat's name is painted a heart. One gets the feeling Corogin is in love with two women -- his sailboat and the sea.
They both call him, even in his dreams. Often, he said, he has dreamed of TLC.
"If there's any truth to that dream, my boat's down there," said the old sailor, "and it's safe."
Though he shuns the label "old," Corogin, could be likened to Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea", the great novel about a fisherman who makes a living by charting courses in the ocean, following the schools of fish he wishes to lure into his net.
Corogin is charting a course for the Pacific again, hoping to find where the love of his life is hiding. He is certain she is still afloat in safe harbor -- pushed there by the westerly winds Corogin was attempting to find when he last chargted a course for Cape Horn. He knows TLC
is wounded. The photographs and video he took of the boat after the storm damaged the vessel speak to the extent of the wounds.
But Corogin feels in the pit of his stomach the small boat has survived months at sea, even without someone at her helm, guiding her through the deepest and largest ocean in the world.
He is certain TLC is still bobbing in the waves of the wide Pacific, waiting for her captain to come home.
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