Drifting out at sea with a broken sail, the yacht painted a desolate picture. But as the two fishermen approached the stricken vessel, they could never have guessed at the nightmare that lurked within.
Peering into the cabin of the boat, the two men were greeted with a scene straight out of a horror movie. They had finally discovered the incredible fate of a German sailor lost at sea.
Fifty-nine-year-old Manfred Fritz Bajorat loved adventure. Born in the Ruhr region of Germany, he hated the cold winters of his native country. So, instead, he traveled the world aboard his 40-foot yacht, Sayo, in search of warmer weather.
Over the course of 20 years, he traveled more than 500,000 nautical miles. He conquered the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, explored the waters of the Caribbean and sailed around the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.
Many of his journeys were done in the company of his wife, Claudia. But when they separated in 2008, he set off on his own adventure – one from which he would never return.
At first, Bajorat kept his Facebook page regularly updated with his adventures. But in 2015, the updates abruptly stopped.
Indeed, the last thing he did was contact a friend on Facebook to wish him a happy birthday. After that, nothing more was heard from the German adventurer.
Then, on February 27, 2016, two Filipino fishermen discovered Sayo drifting 40 miles out to sea off Surigao del Sur in the Philippines. Looking inside the yacht, they came across a truly horrific scene.
Unnerved by what they had seen, the two men towed Sayo back to shore. There, local authorities began to pick apart the grisly discovery.
They found Bajorat slumped at the desk in his cabin, almost as if he were asleep. But the sailor had been dead for a long time, and they were staring at his mummified remains.
Documents found on board the vessel allowed authorities to identify the body as Bajorat. But exactly how he died – and just how long his grisly corpse had been sitting there – remains a mystery.
Inside the cabin it was total chaos. Clothing, books and tins of food were scattered everywhere. Near the body, they found several albums filled with photos of Bajorat and his family. In one, he shares a picnic with his wife and daughter. In others, they take in the sights of Paris.
It later emerged that Bajorat’s wife Claudia had tragically passed away from cancer in 2010. Heartbreakingly, before he disappeared, he left a tribute to her on an internet forum dedicated to sailing.
“Thirty years we’ve been together on the same path,” it read. “Then the power of demons was stronger than the will to live. You’re gone. May your soul find peace. Your Manfred.”
But just how did Bajorat’s mummified remains come to be found adrift in the middle of the ocean? How had a man with so many years’ sailing under his belt met such an unfortunate fate?
A fellow sailor recalled meeting Bajorat in Mallorca, Spain, in 2009. He told Bild, a German newspaper, that he didn’t believe human error was responsible for the man’s death. “He was a very experienced sailor,” he said. “I don’t believe he would have sailed into a storm.”
It was also noted that Bajorat’s body was found close to the radio telephone in the boat’s cabin. Had he been about to make a desperate last call for help? The final minutes of this lone sailor remain a mystery.
Forensic criminologist Dr. Mark Benecke had a theory on how Bajorat might have met his end. As he explained in Bild, “The way he is sitting seems to indicate that death was unexpected, perhaps from a heart attack.”
However he died, though, Bajorat’s lonely existence meant that his body was fated to drift the seas aboard the now-unmanned yacht. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story.
In Sayo’s cabin, the combination of warm temperatures, dry winds and salty air worked to preserve the body, leading to its mummified state. And so Manfred Bajorat stayed sat at his desk, waiting patiently for the moment his story would be revealed to the world.