Remembering the first South African to thrice circumnavigate the globe

Bertie Reed was the first South African, and one of only a few yachtsmen in the world, to complete three singlehanded circumnavigations of the globe. His toughness in adverse conditions at sea earned him the nickname ‘Biltong’.

But he will be especially remembered for his heroic rescue of fellow-South African John Martin, whose yachtAllied Banksank after hitting a submerged iceberg in the Southern Ocean, during the 1990/91 BOC Challenge. Martin was leading the race when this incident occurred: ‘He is a great loss to his family, his friends and the country. He has done so many things, he leaves so many memories,’ said Martin.

Reed was awarded South Africa’s highest civilian award at the time for bravery, the Wolraad Woltemade Decoration, for the outstanding seamanship he displayed during Martin’s rescue in extreme conditions. He also received a presidential citation, and was listed in the Civic Honours Book of the City of Cape Town.

Reed joined the South African Navy in 1961, and it was there that he began his sailing career, which led to him achieving world fame in the inaugural BOC Challenge singlehanded race around the world in 1982/83, when he finished second across the line and first on handicap in the 14-year-old sloopVoortrekker- which at the time was considered old and obsolete.

He sailed some 170,000 nautical miles competitively – over 100 000 singlehanded, which earned Reed a special place among the elite of blue-water sailors around the world. In April this year, Reed was back on the waves with shipmate Martin, showing that his seamanship was still in fine fettle as he sailed the SA Navy’s racing yacht MTU Fascination of Power around the course in Table Bay in the invitational Seniors’ race.

Dodging through the fleet of nearly 50 yachts, Reed said: ‘It is really great to be out in this bay again,’ and his terse advice on sail trimming showed he had lost none of his competitive edge. Reed and Martin sailed together in a number of races, including the two-handed Round Britain Race in 1982 onVoortrekker II, winning it in record time.

Reed was always a modest man and a strong family man. He became an example and an inspiration to thousands of young people in SA and abroad. He readily imparted his knowledge of seamanship. He always had his wristwatch set on GMT, wherever he was in the world, and this confused landlubbers no end as they were in awe of the man who could convert GMT to local time!

More recently Reed and his wife Pat flew to Newport, Rhode Island, in the United States, for his induction into the International Singlehanded Sailors Hall of Fame, at Newport’s Museum of Sailing – a fitting final tribute to a man the sailing world loved and respected.

Article originally published by the South African Tribune on December 24, 2006

Picture by Francois Moucis