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 yacht Allied Bank sank after hitting a submerged iceberg in the Southern Ocean, during the 1990/91 BOC Challenge. Reed was awarded South Africa’s highest civilian award at the time for bravery, the Wolraad Woltemade Decoration. He earned this 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 sailing. It was a career that led to him achieving world fame in the inaugural BOC Challenge singlehanded race around the world in 1982/83. Reed finished second across the line and first on handicap in the 14-year-old Voortrekker… a sloop that was, at the time, considered old and obsolete.
He sailed some 170,000 nautical miles competitively which earned Reed a special place among the elite of blue-water sailors around the world. In April that year, he 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 on Voortrekker
II, winning it in record time.
Reed was always a modest man and strong on family values. He became an example and an inspiration to thousands of young people in South Africa and abroad. He readily shared his knowledge of seamanship and always had his wristwatch set on GMT, wherever he
was in the world. (A fact that caused confusion in landlubbers who were in awe of the man who could convert GMT to local time!)
Reed and his wife Pat flew to Rhode Island, USA for his induction into the International Singlehanded Sailors Hall of Fame, at Newport’s Museum of Sailing. It was a fitting and final tribute to a man the sailing world loved and respected.
Bertie Reed died on 18th December 2006
Thank to Sailing South Africa for sharing this story.