By Roger Williams

Bertie Reed, for many years a Springbok and international sailing legend and one of the most-popular skippers in singlehanded racing around the world, died at his home in Gordon's Bay early on Monday after a long illness.

He was 63.

Bertie and his wife Pat recently 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.

From humble beginnings in Port Elizabeth, Reed rose to the top in ocean racing. His competitive sailing career started in the 1960s and spanned five decades. This brought him a long list of awards for outstanding seamanship and bravery.

In the 80s and early 90s, Stanley John Reed, a former warrant officer in the South African Navy - in which he was nicknamed "Bertie" - earned himself a place among the elite of what was known as the BOC Challenge Singlehanded Round-the-World Race, then regarded as the "Everest of Sailing".

In the first of these races, in 1982/83, and starting and finishing at Newport, Reed's feat in finishing second across the line and first on handicap in the oldest boat, the Knysna-built ocean racer, Voortrekker, was described as "absolutely incredible".

This performance brought the South African sailor, then 39 and a father of four, into world prominence.

Starting as one of 16 competitors from eight countries, he sailed the 14-year-old Voortrekker, a veteran of 10 Atlantic crossings with more than 100 000 nautical miles under her keel, to the finish in the wake of "Flying Frenchman" Philippe Jeantot, who won in the latest product of sailing technology, the purpose-built ocean racer Credit Agricole.

It was in the 1990/91 BOC Challenge that Bertie Reed became the first South African, and one of the few yachtsmen in the world, to complete three solo circumnavigations.

And it was in that race that Reed, sailing his 18.3-metre sloop, Grinaker, saved the life of fellow Springbok John Martin, a former commander in the SA Navy and once a sailing protege of Reed.

Martin's high-tech racer, Allied Bank, had started to delaminate and sink after hitting a submerged iceberg, or growler, deep in the world's remotest and most forbidding maritime wilderness - the Southern Ocean. Martin had been in the lead at the time.

This rescue, in icy and towering seas, earned Reed South Africa's highest civilian award for bravery, the Wolraad Woltemade Decoration.

He also received a presidential citation for "outstanding seamanship, brave action and sportsmanship", at a formal ceremony in Cape Town's Council Chamber in August 1992.

Reed's name was entered in the Civil Honours Book of the City of Cape Town.

He had by then been awarded Springbok Colours for sailing on five separate occasions.

"Biltong" Bertie became an example and an inspiration to thousands of young people in SA and abroad. He readily imparted his knowledge of seamanship and of sailing to many, of all social and racial backgrounds.

He was also a dedicated family man. His wife Pat, whom he married in Port Elizabeth in 1968, was always his greatest supporter and inspiration, ablest assistant and confidante in every sailing venture.

Bertie Reed is survived by Pat and their four children, a son and three daughters, who have been equally close and supportive throughout his career.