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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | Mystery of the Sayo

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“The soul of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.”

— Kate Chopin

IN March of 2016, Filipino fishermen discovered the Sayo, a partially submerged sailboat, about fifty miles off the coast. Thinking they may be able to salvage the forty-foot boat, they climbed aboard to investigate, but what they found ended any hopes of a bounty. Somewhat damaged, the vessel contained the mummified remains of its owner, who apparently died where he sat near the radio, slouched over on one arm. What happened? When did he die? And how did he come to be discovered in a most unusual position and condition?

Manfred Fritz Bajorat, age 59, was an experienced German sailor who made many voyages along with his wife, Claudia, until her death from cancer in 2009. In fact, no one had heard from him since his wife’s passing. Bajorat took to the sea one last time, a grieving widower in search of the kind of peace and solitude found only on the open ocean.

He last made contact with the outside world when off the coast of Spain, then whoosh. Gone. Seven years later he was found lifeless near the Philippines. Surely, he didn’t travel halfway around the world after his death.

Initial reports indicated piracy. The vessel was damaged but seaworthy. The body of the captain sat lifeless at his desk, possibly the victim of a crime. But as details emerged another picture came into focus, a more peaceful and somber one.

He sailed the sea for years, apparently without making contact or landfall, leading many to wonder if the vessel had drifted with a dead man on board for years. After initial speculation of just that, investigators concluded that he had only been dead about a week. The coroner reported that he died either from a heart attack or stroke. There had been no signs of foul play nor a struggle. He simply sat at his desk, hunched over and died, although his proximity to the radio may indicate that he tried to call for help in his final moments.

The warm, moist air did the rest. Other than being covered with mold, his body was remarkably preserved, as well as any king of Egypt. You can even make out an expression on his face.

“The air, heat, and saltiness of the sea are all conducive to mummification,” commented Peter Vanezis, a forensic pathologist. “It starts within two or three weeks. The fingers and other extremities- the nose, the face- dry quickly and in a month or two they are well gone.”

The man who lost his sailing partner and love of his life took to the sea and died there, apparently at peace. It was a bizarre and sad ending to a life, and yet there is something beautiful about it.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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