South Africa's most famous "old salt", Bertie Reed, will next month become one of the few sailing elite to be inducted into the Single-Handed Sailors' Hall of Fame in the United States.

Reed and his wife Pat will fly to Newport, Rhode Island, the sailing capital of the world, to attend the induction ceremony on July 14 at the Museum of Yachting.

There he and three other "extraordinary solo sailors" will have their names added to the list of seven current Hall of Fame members, including Joshua Slocum, Sir Francis Chichester, Harry Pidgeon and Reed's personal mentor, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

Reed, Dame Ellen MacArthur, 28, the fastest woman to sail around the world, Minoru Saito of Japan, 71, the oldest to complete his seventh solo non-stop circumnavigation and five-times circumnavigator and BOC record-breaker Jean-Luc van den Heede were nominated by a panel of internationally renowned single-handed sailing experts.

The quartet were singled out for their "unique contribution to single-handing sailing, extraordinary achievement, pioneering spirit overcoming a remarkable challenge and providing a source of inspiration to others".

Reed, now 63, began his solo sailing earnestly in 1982 when he was placed first on handicap in the inaugural BOC Challenge, and subsequently logged more than 100 000 miles of single-handed ocean racing.

During the third of his three solo BOC circumnavigations, in 1990-91, he pulled off a dramatic "needle in a haystick" type search-and-rescue operation in the dark to find his comrade and fellow South African sailor John Martin, whose yacht Allied Bank had been hit by a "growler" (a submerged piece of a melting iceberg) near Cape Horn.

Thanks to the fact that Reed's purpose-built yacht Grinaker had recently been fitted with a global positioning system, which was far more accurate than the earlier satellite navigation system, he found his friend just in time.

Martin had by then abandoned his yacht and was in a water-logged rubber duck, suffering from hypothermia.

"It was a sad day for John," recalled Reed. "He was in the lead and would have won the race. I don't think anyone can put themselves in his shoes at his disappointment of being right on top of the world... and the next day to know his yacht was finished."

For this selfless act, Bertie Reed was awarded the Wolraad Woltemade Decoration - then South Africa's highest civilian award for bravery.

Reed is to be honoured at a black tie dinner at the Royal Cape Yacht Club on Saturday.

At Saturday night's dinner the main speaker will be Roger Williams, former chief reporter of the Cape Times and author of Reed in the Wind.