Comedian Stephen Colbert—Charleston native, president of the “Colbert Nation,” and “admiral of the airwaves”—is also honorary captain of the fleet for the 2011 Charleston Bermuda (C2B) Race, which sails out of the harbor and into the briny depths of the Atlantic Ocean on May 21. “It’s a heady responsibility,” Colbert concedes by phone from New York, where he’s busy writing jokes for The Colbert Report, his award-winning television show on Comedy Central.
The 777-mile race, held biennially since 1997, is sponsored by OnDeck in partnership with the South Carolina Maritime Foundation and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. “The challenge of any race to Bermuda is getting across the Gulf Stream and dealing with the conditions of the breeze,” says race director Bjorn Johnson. “Winds become very light and fickle. But if you get the right weather, it can be a very fun race with a lot of spinnaker work, and very fast.”
Colbert has encountered those winds once before when he tackled the Atlantic in the 2005 C2B Race, a year that haunts those miserable, becalmed sailors—including Colbert and his fellow crew aboard the Tao—who did not reach Bermuda before the race was called.
“We were becalmed for almost two days about 500 miles out,” Colbert explains. “I understand ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ now. You just sit there, no reference points, a perfectly blue sky, with perfectly blue water while the boat slowly gyres in black currents. Eventually you don’t know which way is up. It drove me a little crazy. Plus, we lost our toilets. And ran out of fuel. And water. Oh, it was terrible.”
Despite that, “I just loved it,” he says. “That’s the only blue-water racing I’ve done. It wasn’t always comfortable and it wasn’t even always fun, but it was always sublime.”
This time, Colbert will be aboard one of three Farr 65 ocean-racing yachts from OnDeck, an international sailing company that visited Charleston in late 2009 and selected the city as its first U.S. sailing center.
This past February, Colbert challenged Richard Branson (with whom he’s had a mock feud since 2007) to race, taunting the British mogul with insults that he has a “tiny spinnaker.” Branson, a noted yacht racer, replied that he’ll be launching a Virgin America airline route in Chicago that week, and that no indeed, his spinnaker is not tiny. “Sir Richard is not sailing,” says Colbert. “I can’t believe he chickened out.”
Bon Voyage Crew Party
The Historic Rice Mill Building, Charleston City Marina, 17 Lockwood Blvd. Thursday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. $30. (843) 577-2515, www.charlestonbermudarace.com