Deaf sailor Gavin Reid wins top award after daring mid-ocean rescue

Story highlights

  • Reid beats UK's best sailor to win top honor
  • Honored for his part in a daring mid-ocean rescue

(CNN)Gavin Reid, who is profoundly deaf, was as bemused as anyone to be named Britain's yachtsman of the year, given he'd only ever competed in one yacht race in his life.

He was up against some of the UK's biggest sailing names, who boast Olympic medals and titles, but Reid picked up the award for his part in a dramatic ocean rescue.
Reid swam to a stranded vessel before climbing its mast and untangling a distressed crew member. All while negotiating rough seas.
    The 28-year-old came to the rescue on January 5, 2016.
    On board Mission Performance during the 11-month Clipper Round-the-World Yacht Race, he received an SOS call from a stricken vessel shortly after midnight in the southern Pacific Ocean. It was on its way back from competing in the Sydney-Hobart race.
    "They had a crew member stuck up the mast, another with a broken arm, so we turned around to locate their boat," Reid tells CNN.
    "The sea was incredibly rough at the time so we couldn't place the boats side by side and board that way."
    Having gained experience clambering up and down the mast already during the event, Reid offered to climb on board to make the rescue.
    "It was only with five minutes to go when my skipper asked why I wasn't in my dry suit that I realized I'd agreed to swim across the ocean from one boat to the next," he says.
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    Admitting he was "pretty nervous," Reid was also worried about whether his hearing aids would be damaged by the water -- they weren't.


    The swim in the rough ocean between the two vessels took about five minutes but, he says, "at the time it felt like an eternity."
    None of the crew on board were in a fit state to climb the mast, while one crew member had been tangled in ropes at the top of it for nine hours.
    "He couldn't get up or down and he wasn't in a good way," Reid recalls. "He was conscious but he didn't have any energy left and was severely dehydrated."
    For two hours, Reid battled to untangle him. He did so before a police boat arrived on the scene to offer additional help. Reid admitted he was "in a bit of pain but mentally shattered."
    Worse was to follow when the same unfortunate boat was left beached for 12 hours after being hit by a subsequent typhoon.
    But it eventually made it back to land safely and Reid has remained in contact with its skipper.
    As for Mission Performance's own position in the Clipper Race, after the rescue it dropped from fifth place to dead last.
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    Reid laughs off the hero tag that has come his way.
    "I didn't feel very heroic," he says. "I offered to do it as I was the one with the mast experience and I guess I was in the right spot at the right time. I think most people would have done what I did really."
    Rather than let his drama on the high seas put him off sailing, Reid is hoping for a future on the ocean waves.
    Reid gave up a previous job in procurement and he doesn't plan on returning to that line of work.
    "That's what I've got to work out," he says of his future. "I'd like to do more qualifications for other races. I'm a bit far off something like the Volvo Ocean Race or the Vendee Globe. But I'm keen on a next adventure."
    With previous winners of the award including luminaries such as Ben Ainslie, Volvo Ocean Race winner Ian Walker and Clipper Race founder Robin Knox-Johnston, simply being nominated was a huge honor for Reid.
    "To win it was a big surprise," he adds. "It's pretty crazy really."