The Charleston Bermuda Race Gets Underway

May 22, 2011

ColbertyachtThe 11 boats racing in the 777-mile Charleston Bermuda Race got under way yesterday [May 21] beneath bright blue skies with freshening breezes ranging from eight to 12 knots.

Borne by an ebb tide, the boats all crossed the starting line on starboard tack, and headed upwind out of the harbor, chased by a 50-strong fleet of spectator boats.

Shortly before, the eight race boats berthed at the Charleston City Marina had received a rousing sendoff by a crush of well wishers.

A crowd of thousands had gathered on the dock to bid farewell to native Charlestonian Stephen Colbert [pictured here before the start of the race] of  Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”

The Comedy Central talk show star is both a contestant and the Honorary Captain of the Fleet and the race has reaped enormous international publicity because of his participation.

Mr. Colbert had challenged British billionaire and record-setting adventurer Sir Richard Branson — his mock nemesis in recent years — to race him to Bermuda in the upcoming event to “decide who is the greatest sailor in the world”. Sir Richard never responded.

This is Mr. Colbert’s second time competing in the event. He and a group of friends participated in the 2005 edition of the Charleston Bermuda race — crossing the finish line dead last.

The day started nearly windless, with an oppressive southern sun bearing down, but almost like clockwork, the seabreeze slipped into the harbor at noon, gifting the fleet with enough wind for an exciting start.

As the boats made their way out toward Fort Sumter, the winds increased, adding to the excitement.

The three boats entered in the Cruising Class started first, with Charleston sailor Bernie Schapiro and crew on board his 41-foot “Pied-a-Mer” getting the best start. They were 10 seconds off the line when the horn blew, chased closely by George Maloomian’s larger and faster Hylas 53 “Gratitude”.

The four yachts sailing in the Doublehanded Division started next, and it was clear that the boat to beat would be Noel Sterrett’s J/130 “Solarus”. Mr. Sterrett and his crew Matt Henderson were constantly trimming the sails, eking every bit of performance out of the boat as they handily pulled ahead in the initial minutes of the race.

And then came the four Racing Class boats, with Stephen Colbert on board the Audi-sponsored “Spirit of Juno” anticipating a heated duel with his friend Steve Wherry on board an identical Farr 65 “The Spirit of Minerva”.

Both crews could only watch as Hank Hofford and Susan Ford and their family team on board the Shipman 63 “Tucana” sped away. “Tucana” is a lighter, slightly faster design, but she also has the benefit of substantial racing talent on board.

Former Olympic dinghy campaigner Michael Miller and delivery captain Dan Valoppe – both Charleston residents — will play pivotal roles in keeping this steed at the head of the fleet.

As the boats moved past Fort Sumter, Mr. Colbert engaged his friend Mr. Wherry in a tacking duel. Mr. Colbert and company tacked just beneath Mr. Wherry’s boat and at one stage the two titans were neck and neck with Juno only 10 feet to leeward of the “Minerva.”

Mr. Wherry’s team won that initial exchange, and Mr. Colbert’s crew had to tack away. But on the next exchange, Mr. Colbert and company had played it perfectly, sailing out to the right farther and getting the advantage.

Skippered by Stephen Colbert, “Spirit of Juno” gets off to a last-place startcolbertyacht1

As the boats sailed out of the harbour jetties and moved off toward Bermuda, the ”Colbert Report” host — who had said the only thing standing between him and victory was the possibility of Judgement Day coming to pass yesterday – had got his first little victory in this contest. He sat aftmost on the weather rail, a grin on his face and gleam in his eye.

Earlier in the day, before the boats left the dock, the race organisers had to orchestrate a last-minute switch of on-board personnel [each of the Farr 65s carries a paid captain and two mates.]

“The Spirit of Juno’s” captain, Rory Faulkner, had experienced severe chest pains. Local physician Dr. David Warters evaluated Faulkner and quickly took him to the Medical University of South Carolina for emergency X-rays.

The diagnosis was a collapsed lung, which is a life-threatening condition, meaning that Mr. Faulkner could not participate in the race.

Race sponsor OnDeck’s logistics and shore support team worked quickly to resolve the situation in the best possible way. Ultimately, Mr. Faulkner’s role as captain on “The Spirit of Juno” would be filled by Timothy Scarisbrick, who until 10:30 that morning had been the skipper of “Spirit of Minerva.”

Mr. Scarisbrick’s role would be filled by “Minerva’s” first mate Mark Schultz, who has the training and credentials to serve as captain. “Tucana’s” captain Pat Maflin helped out and agreed to transfer crew member Andrew Jasso to join Jonathan Blansfield as mate on “Minerva”.

Mid-afternoon, as the fleet moved offshore, the southwest winds were intensifying, giving each crew hope for a speedy passage to Bermuda. If those winds hold, the lead boats should encounter the Gulf Stream by this morning.

The arrival of the fleet in Bermuda later this week will mark the beginning of a three-day celebration, with events sponsored by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the Bermuda Ministry of Tourism, Goslings Rum and OnDeck.

At the Bermuda Bound Cocktail Reception held at the South Carolina Society Hall in Charleston on Friday [May 20], an event which attracted the city’s business and political leaders as well as crew members and their associates, Mr. Colbert was presented with a pair of pink Bermuda shorts for good luck by the Bermuda Department of Tourism’s Karin Darrell [pictured below]. 

Bermuda Dept. of Tourism Wishes Colbert Good Luck

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