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Harrowing journey at sea ends with rescue for Ohio attorney

August 2, 2012 | Alumni

Tom Corogin ’53 always has been a man with incredible focus. It’s served him well over his nearly 60-year legal career, but now he’s devoted to a new cause: sailing around the world. The 84-year-old graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law recently returned from his seventh attempt to circumnavigate the globe by sail.

“I’ve always been a single-purpose person, once I get hooked on something,” he said. “I’m just driven to get it done. Everything else suffers then until I get the job done.”

Corogin is an experienced sailor, but even after 25 years sailing on the ocean, it can be unpredictable. No amount of planning can guarantee a perfect trip. His most recent voyage was marred by injuries and mechanical troubles and ended with a rescue from the Chilean navy. It’s a harrowing story, something out of an adventure novel instead of a courtroom drama.

Research skills that were honed trying cases were put to good use preparing for his trip to cross the Pacific Ocean, a body of water that, at its widest, spans more than 11,000 miles.

“When you’re preparing for a trip, the boat is the No. 1 thing,” he said. It’s important to know every inch of the boat and its workings before embarking, because a solo sailor is all alone out on the water. But preparing the boat is only the beginning. “Then I need to do research for wind, current, and weather all along the way.”

The first leg of the trip got off to a dangerous start. “I left San Diego in the first part of October, and by Christmas I was at Easter Island, which is 2,300 miles from Ecuador,” Corogin said. “In the process of that trip, I fell off the bow and received a puncture wound that became infected.”

Alone in the ocean, Corogin tried to take care of the wound himself. “I was able to clean and dress my own wound,” he said. “But it got so bad I was hospitalized. Because it was such a deep wound, the flesh died, and they had to cut away the bad flesh. It made a mess of that part of the leg, which filled up with scar tissue.”

Despite his injury, which continues to trouble him to this day, Corogin continued on. He set off for Cape Horn at the southern point of Chile, 2,500 miles away. Day-to-day life on the ship for him settled into a familiar routine. “There’s no stress,” he said. “A person has to know his boat and how to handle it in the different conditions.”

Through the night, he would wake up every 15 minutes to check for incoming ships and make sure the boat is doing well, and he spent the long, sunny days out by the water. “I fish every day and catch a lot of fish,” he said. “Flying fish jump on the boat; squid jump up. I eat those raw.”

Even weather was usually manageable because the horizon can be seen from all sides out on the ocean. One can see potential storms coming in from far off. But as he neared Chile, an ugly storm reared its head. It broke two of the stays that are essentially to keeping the boat usable and jammed the rudder. The boat was completely unable to sail. For two days, Corogin did his best to get her sea-worthy again, but to no avail. He had to call for help.

“The Chilean navy sent out a search plane to look for me, and after a couple of days they found me and diverted a Japanese freighter to pick me up,” he said. Tales of his journey and Chilean rescue spread, and Corogin’s story was reported in USA Today and The Huffington Post. “I was taken to Valparaiso, (Chile) and given a hero’s welcome.”

Now that he’s back in Port Clinton, Ohio, Corogin still is hopeful about his vessel and said the navy is optimistic. “They think the boat, even if it is disabled, it didn’t sink. So if it comes ashore, which it’s sure to do in Southern Chile, they will call me, and we’ll see if we can repair it.”

Though he’s not quite ready to head back onto the ocean, Corogin still gets to spend plenty of time on the water. He lives down by the town’s marina and can spend his hours sailing along Lake Erie.

In Port Clinton, Corogin is known as an avid sailor and an astute trial attorney. Port Clinton was a small town back in 1953, but throughout his 59 years of practice, he’s faced a number of jury trials. He still takes cases, but practices only part-time. “I really miss trying cases. I miss the full-time practice. But I would probably prefer sailing.”

This article was written by Catie Coleman.