An extraordinary act of bravery and seamanship has resulted in Clipper 2015-16 Race crew member Gavin Reid being named as the 2016 YJA Yachtsman of the Year


Gavin Reid, 28, an amateur sailor who was born profoundly deaf, has beaten “his heroes”, Giles Scott, the Rio 2016 Gold Medalist, and Brian Thompson, Round the Island Race Record Holder, to be honoured as the 2016 YJA Yachtsman of the Year.

Gavin Reid

The 2015-16 Clipper Race Mission Performance crewmember Gavin Reid, a 28 year-old Scotsman who was born deaf, was surprised to receive the award during the Yachting Journalists Association (YJA) London prize-giving. The award is voted for by the 200+ YJA members public after Reid and his team went to the assistance of a non-racing yacht in distress with a crewmember trapped aloft, during the Clipper Race leg from Hobart to the Whitsunday Islands in mid January (See the video of the rescue here).

Mission Performance responded to a distress call from M3, a TP52 on a return delivery from the Sydney Hobart race in January 2016. It had a wrapped propeller, a damaged mainsail and a crewmember who had been stuck at the top of the mast for several hours.

Gavin Reid rescue

The Clipper yacht was 11 miles away from M3 when it responded to the distress call, suspending racing at midnight to try and provide assistance. Conditions were deemed too rough for Mission Performance to pull alongside, combined with the discovery that the mainsail of M3 could not be lowered and that her crew were dragging two drogues to slow them down.

Gavin Reid, a supply chain coordinator who lives in Cambridge and had no previous sailing experience before signing up for the race, volunteered to transfer to the yacht. Once a throwing line successfully connected the two yachts, Reid jumped into the water during first light, carrying his hearing aid inside his drysuit for the swim across.

“That was what I was most nervous about actually,” he later told the Whitsunday Times, “whether my hearing aid would survive the journey, but thankfully it did.” Born deaf, Reid grew up in Scotland and played several international matches for Scotland’s deaf Rugby Union team.

During the rescue, he climbed the vessel’s mast and took two hours to help free M3’s stranded crewman. “When I got to the mast, the halyards were all wrapped around the mast at the top, so I tried to go up and help the guy untangle himself and bring himself down,” said Gavin Reid shortly after the rescue. “It was pretty bumpy and I think I was up there for about two hours. The guy was up there for about nine hours so I am glad he is down.”

Gavin Reid became experienced in mast work during the Clipper Race and used the one remaining staysail halyard to hoist himself two thirds of the way up the swinging mast, then climbed the rest of the way hand-over-hand to reach the crewman, untangle the lines, and help to lower him down safely.

Fellow Mission Performance crewmember Katherine Law reported: “There were limited halyards on board as the crewmember had been thrown around the entire rigging, jamming all halyards including his own. He [Reid] was sent up on the staysail halyard, which only went up to the top two thirds of the mast. As I said before, Gavin is good at working out solutions to problems!”

Gavin Reid and Mission Performance receiving the Henri Lloyd Seamanship Award

Gavin Reid receives the Henri Lloyd Seamanship award at the Clipper Race Finish in London last summer

“I’ve been hearing impaired since I was born so it’s been a challenge all of my life,” says Reid. “I’ve had to deal with it in all aspects of my life whether that’s in work or playing sport and I thought the Clipper Race was a way of giving myself an even bigger challenge.”

After receiving the award Reid said “To be here with so many amazing names and people who have achieved so much is quite daunting…I’m sure Giles Scott is thinking ‘how did I not win it?’ But it was a real honour to beat someone with such amazing credentials.”

Gavin Reid

Gavin Reid’s bravery has already been recognised with the Henri Lloyd Seamanship award at the Clipper Race Finish in London last summer, the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) Outstanding Seamanship Award and he was also recognised at the 2016 Australian Sailing Awards.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, a former winner of the YJA Yachtsman of the Year award, said: “The Clipper Race is highly competitive but faced with any situation where a fellow sailor on another boat was in serious trouble the crew of Mission Performance, who are fully trained with a safety first mentality, upheld the tradition of the sea that you do not hesitate to go to the assistance of another sailor in distress, setting an excellent example of seamanship which is a crucial attribute for all good ocean racing sailors.