'Age Is Nothing,' Rescued 84-year-old Sailor Says

By Salon Staff

Published January 10, 2012 3:00AM (EST)

VALPARAISO, Chile (AP) — An American sailor rescued in the remote South Pacific isn't ruling out another effort to navigate alone around the tip of South America.

After all, he's tried only six times now to achieve the feat, and he's just 84 years old.

"Age means nothing. What is important is that you are alive, so I don't worry about numbers. I worry about life. That, I think, is more important," Thomas Louis Corogin said Monday after the Chilean navy brought him to shore.

Corogin had set sail Dec. 27 from Easter Island on the last and most difficult part of his attempt to sail around Cape Horn, preparing to weather some of the world's most dangerous seas. But then a key piece of rigging snapped.

He did what he could, but the fix wouldn't hold. In a week of sailing, he had ventured 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of Easter Island. Few places on Earth are more remote.

"The backstay broke," Corogin said, describing the key piece of rigging that runs from the top of the mast to the stern, keeping the sails trim.

"I did temporary repairs with rope, but they would only last a short time and the mast would come down, so I could not sail and the tiller was locked in with the wreckage," he said. "I could not steer the boat, and the boat could no longer sail."

Frustrated and physically exhausted, Corogin activated his distress signal. The Chilean navy confirmed it with the U.S. Coast Guard and then contacted the Japanese merchant ship White Kingdom, which headed toward his location. A Chilean search and rescue plane quickly took off, and after refueling on Easter Island, spotted the 32-foot sailboat the next day, 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from Valparaiso.

"It was a very good sight to see," Corogin recalled, "because all the way from Ecuador to where I was, I had never seen one ship. There was no traffic whatsoever."

Was it frightening, being alone out there in a broken sailboat? Corogin dismissed the question.

"I have no fear. When you sail on the ocean you have to understand your boat, just like the captain has to understand his ship. You do what you have to do."

Rounding Cape Horn had always been the dream of Corogin, a lawyer who runs a small marina in Port Clinton, Ohio, and gives sailing lessons on Lake Erie. It has always been one of sailing's most difficult feats, and he was trying it alone at age 84. His friends have marveled at his determination, and agree that he seems mentally and physically much younger than his years.

Injuries cut short some of his previous attempts, including a broken leg and busted knee, said Charles Scott, a friend from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who has sailed with him in the past. This time, Corogin fell off the boat at one point, and his injury became infected. He spent four days recovering at a hospital in Ecuador, then set sail again.

Corogin said he has to think about whether he'll try an seventh time.

"Maybe ... first I have to recover emotionally ... right now I want to be with my family," he said, adding that he's eager to see his four children in the United States.

He waved a Chilean flag in gratitude as the frigate Blanca Escalada docked at Chile's main navy base Monday, and thanked his rescuers repeatedly, saying he never expected them to come so quickly.

"The navy had their plane looking for me and there was one ship in the area and the navy diverted that ship to come to my boat to pick me up. I'm very grateful and I owe (them) the deepest respect and thanks."

As for his sailboat, the TLC, he thinks it's still floating out there, cut loose by the Japanese merchant ship after he was lifted to safety. It's not insured, and he doesn't expect to recover it.

"It would be very difficult. It's 2,000 miles from Chile, 500 miles from Isla de Pascua, and there's nothing there," he said.

Still, the ocean calls. Corogin said he'll have to go back to work to make money for another boat, but he won't stay off the seas.

"Sometimes it's dangerous, it's expensive. Now I lost my boat and I have no insurance. But for some reason I want to go back."

Corogin may be getting on in years, but he says: "I don't think age has anything to do with it. I think it's a matter of your life. I'm blessed: God has given me 84 years, and I'm trying to use them."


Associated Press writer Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report. Follow him at http://twitter.com/mwarrenap

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