Voortrekker preparing for final berthing at Naval Museum


Another component of South African naval history is en route to the SA Navy Museum in Simon’s Town.

That component is the ocean yacht Voortrekker which in the capable hands of Bertie Reed made the maritime service of the then SA Defence Force a symbol of national pride.

“Authority has been given for the retired Voortrekker to be added to the SA Naval Museum collection,” Museum curator Commander Leon Steyn said.

This has seen the 15 metre racing yacht taken out of the water at the SA Navy sailing centre to be “measured”, as it were, for a special cradle. The cradle will be built by Naval Engineering Service (NES) and all indications are Voortrekker will be in her final berth before year-end.

“Once at the Museum she will be refitted and a display created to honour the yacht and the men who sailed her since 1968,” Steyn said.

Voortrekker gained international fame when she placed first on handicap in the 1968 single-handed trans-Atlantic race and then earning a second when she was 14 years old in the 1982/83 BOC Challenge.

Voortrekker was birthed from a decision by what was then the Springbok Ocean Racing Trust to have an entry in the 1968 single-handed trans-Atlantic race. Fundraising got underway, a design was approved and an order to build placed with Thesens of Knysna for a reported figure of R35 000 at that time.

Bruce Dalling was selected to be Voortrekker’s first skipper and a year later the yacht, originally designed as a ketch and later re-rigged as a sloop, was handed to the SA Navy Sailing Association. She would be used for sail training and as a national entrant in ocean racing.

In 1982 Voortrekker, branded Altech Voortrekker to reflect its sponsorship, entered the BOC Challenge. She was skippered by Navy Warrant Officer Bertie Reed. He is reported as saying she was the “fastest, most uncomfortable, prettiest 50-footer around”. Voortrekker was later used for sail training by the Navy and entered a number of Cape to Rio races with sailors from disadvantaged backgrounds in conjunction with the Izivunguvungu Sailing School.

Reed, given the nickname “biltong”, joined the Navy in 1961 and spent 21 years in uniform before retiring. He was awarded what was South Africa’s highest civilian award for bravery, the Wolraad Woltemade Decoration, for rescuing sailor John Martin whose yacht sank after hitting a submerged iceberg in the Southern Ocean during the 1990/91 BOC Challenge. In 2006 he was inducted into the Single-Handed Sailors’ Hall of Fame and also received Springbok colours for sailing no less than five times. He died in December 2006.