Colbert’s Odyssey

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Colbert re-ups for Bermuda yacht race

By Brian Hicks
Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stephen Colbert knows just enough about ocean sailing to realize, in all “truthiness,” that it’s no place for an amateur.

But he’s coming home to sail in this year’s running of the Charleston to Bermuda race anyway.

And that could significantly raise the profile of the city’s biennial sailboat race.

Colbert, raised in Charleston and host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, announced Friday that he would sail on one of the OnDeck yachts in the 777-mile race that begins May 21.

“The ocean has had a free ride too long,” Colbert said in a statement. “Well, it has to deal with me now. Brace yourself, Atlantic!”

J. Richard Speer, CEO of OnDeck Group US, met Colbert at Thanksgiving when the comedian was visiting family in town. Speer said Colbert spoke affectionately of the race, even though the last time he sailed in it — 2005 — the experience could be charitably described as a disaster.

The boat Colbert sailed on lost its sanitation system, ran out of fuel and reached Hamilton, Bermuda, two days after the awards ceremony festivities were over.

“They had to listen to the awards ceremony on the boat’s VHF radio,” Speer said.

Still, Colbert had the idea to sail in the race again, and will in all likelihood promote it heavily on his popular television show. That should help the race tremendously.

The biennial Charleston-to- Bermuda race began in 1997, the idea of two local sailors and marine industry professionals, David Browder and Rick Hennigar. In the previous seven runnings, up to 20 boats have competed.

The economy left the race with a small field of six boats in 2009, and light winds forced race officials to allow the boats to use their motors on the final stretch to Bermuda.

This year, the sailing company OnDeck US is running the race in partnership with the South Carolina Maritime Foundation and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Already, there are more than six boats committed to the race. OnDeck is committed to growing the race’s profile, Speer said, and Colbert’s participation will probably lead to more entrants. He said Colbert is going to talk some other celebrities into hoisting sail for Charleston.

“We can’t think of anyone better qualified to represent the spirit of this event and take command of the fleet in this exciting race to Bermuda,” Speer said.

Colbert grew up on James Island and in downtown Charleston, but in 2005 — months before “The Colbert Report” debuted — he told The Post and Courier that he knew little about sailing.

“But I have some friends who are,” Colbert said. “They got me a slot on one of the ships, and they said, ‘You get the right safety gear and we’ll make sure you don’t drown. We’ll get you there.’ I can’t believe my wife is letting me go.”

Apparently, she’s letting him go again. That’s The Word, anyway.

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