Two fishermen got more than they bargained for when they pulled alongside a weather-beaten yacht in the Pacific Ocean last week. According to MSN News, Christopher Rivas, 23, and a companion boarded the vessel along the Phillipine coastline and found a European sailor dead inside — mummified by the climate and conditions after drifting in the tropics for an undetermined amount of time.
Filipino National Guard members and local police used onboard documents to identify the body as that of German adventurer Manfred Fritz Bajorat. According to Leading British Conversation Radio, Bajorat’s vessel, the Sayo, was last seen in 2009.
Officials are awaiting test results to determine exactly how long Bajorat has been dead. There were no signs of foul play and his personal belongings were still found around the cabin. The body was found near the radio controls, indicating that he died suddenly and slumped forward where he sat.
“Initially, it looks to us that he died of natural causes, maybe a heart attack,” Police Chief Inspector Dominador Plaza told the San Jose Mercury News. “And death appears to have come suddenly because he was still sitting by the table when he passed away.”
Even more remarkable than what caused Bajorat’s death was the cause of his preservation. His closed cabin, the salt air, and the tropical climate of the region combined to mummify his body. His body appeared ashen gray after the process.
The Sayo is a 40-foot sailboat Bajorat had sailed on for many years. It was apparently damaged by a storm and had been adrift for some time, all the while encapsulating its captain.
Many questioned how a vessel so large and unique could go unnoticed on the 21-century oceans. While the Sayo did seemingly go unnoticed for years, it was noted by at least one observer before Bajorat’s body was discovered last weekend. XS Sailing wrote that a clipper in the 40,000-mile 2015-16 World Yacht Race spotted the Sayo while sailing in the event between Australia and Vietnam.
An update on the race from Jan. 31, 2016, read:
LMAX Exchange had suspended racing this morning after discovering an abandoned yacht. The team, which was in third place at the time, was in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard in Guam and the Race Director who communicated with Falmouth Coast Guard on the matter. No other Clipper Race yachts were involved. All Clipper Race crew are safe and well and the team has now resumed racing.
But for some reason Bajorat remained undiscovered for nearly a month. The Race records were updated Monday to reflect last weekend’s findings:
On January 31 during the leg from Australia to Vietnam, LMAX Exchange came across a dismasted boat south of Guam. At the time, the Clipper Race was unable to release any further details but it was in fact the German-registered yacht Sayo which was recently discovered off the coast of the Philippines with the sole occupant dead, probably for some considerable time. An LMAX Exchange crew member had boarded the yacht and reported the find which was relayed to the relevant authorities who instructed the team to continue racing while they took over the investigation and traced the next of kin.
Bajorat was 59 when he died. He had spent the last 20 years sailing across the globe onboard the Sayo, racking up 500,000 nautical miles in their two decades under sail. Canada.com reported that his family would be traveling to the Phillipines to identify the body; if it is Bajorat, his body will be cremated according to his family’s wishes.
Bajorat was preceded in death by his former wife, Claudia, who died from cancer at the age of 53 in 2010; the couple reportedly parted ways in 2008.
Making the case even stranger, Bajorat wrote a short note in memory of Claudia before he died, with his discoverers finding it amid the ship’s contents (see the video below).
What actually happened to Bajorat will likely never be known. Indeed, the more investigators uncover tends to lead to more questions rather than answers. Regardless, for the Filipino fishermen who found the Sayo and its captain, the image of a mummified sailor slumped at his desk will never leave their minds.