Most competitive sports require timing of the utmost precision, and none more so than professional sailing. Regatta events actually begin with a countdown to the official starting gun, typically somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, when yacht skippers are required to maneuver their boats back and forth in front of the start line but without crossing it. Of course, during all that time they are at the mercy of the elements – strong winds or a choppy sea can test every ounce of skill from even the most experienced crews. Understandably, accurate timekeeping becomes critical in that highly-specific nautical situation. Jump the gun and penalties are incurred. Set off too late and risk languishing at the back for the entire race.
There have been a host of watch manufacturers (including Rolex) who have taken on the challenge of creating models specifically for the world’s professional sailors, each employing their own take on that all important countdown timer. Below we have selected a few of the very best regatta timers with nautical styling.
Panerai Luminor 1950 Regatta 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic Titanio (PAM00526)
Never knowingly under-named, Panerai’s Luminor Regatta 3 Days (maybe we’ll just call it that for convenience) is part of a seven-strong team of watches in the brand’s lineup designed for the expert yachtsman. Launching in 2013, it is most definitely of the Luminor ilk, with its enormous 47mm girth, classic cushion-shaped case, and impenetrable crown guard.
However, thanks to the in-house P.9100/R movement, it also features an automatic chronograph with a flyback function, allowing the wearer to immediately synchronize the watch with a regatta’s official timer. That is a lot of information for any one piece to display effectively, but Panerai’s effort is certainly one of the most legible around, thanks in no small part to the sheer expanse of real estate they have to work with.
The main hands are the regulation Luminor batons, but the countdown timer uses another pair of centrally mounted pointers; orange for the minutes and blue for the seconds. That use of color not only makes the whole thing extremely readable, it also works on an aesthetic level, giving the model a distinctive nautical style compared to its contemporaries.
A trio of pushers control all aspects of the chronograph and timer; the start and stop button at the 10 o’clock, the flyback feature at the eight, and the regatta countdown at the four. It allows for split second coordination between the race clock and the watch and the ability to adjust instantaneously if needed.
For the rest, the case is forged from lightweight and extremely tough titanium, and the elegantly set up dial is protected by a sapphire crystal, second only to diamond on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. With not much change out of $20,000, the Luminor Regatta 3 Days is certainly not the cheapest model out there, but its blend of utility, strength, nautical style and just pure size means you are getting a whole lot of watch for the money.
Bremont Regatta AC OTUSA
With their manufacturing headquarters in Henley-On-Thames, U.K., home of the incredibly posh Henley regatta, it stands to reason that Bremont would know their way around a nautical watch. Couple that with the fact co-founder Giles English trained as a naval architect, and it is obvious why the brand jumped at the chance of becoming both the British Official Timing Partner of the 35th America’s Cup in 2017, and also the sponsors of the champion Oracle Team USA.
As a result of the collaboration, Bremont released a fleet of new watches within the Regatta AC family. While all models are well setup in terms of functionality, some options are significantly more dressy and sober of the two, doing away with the scale for the countdown register on the dial – something still present and correct on the sporty (and thoroughly nautical) OTUSA, alongside the pair of five minute counters and the 12-hour chronograph sub-dial.
It is a very different take on the yachting timer complication than the Panerai, offering even more information on a reduced canvas, although at 43mm, it is still by no means a small watch. Especially impressive are those dual five minute counters, displayed in asymmetrical apertures at the 12 o’clock. On the right hand side, a red disc marked 5-4-3-2-1 counts down in 30-second intervals after it is activated by the two o’clock pusher, while the blue arc on the left slowly reveals the word START as time ticks on.
Behind it all is the Bremont BE-17E movement, based on the Valjoux 7750, heavily customized by longtime partners, La Joux Perret in Switzerland. Self-winding and with a 42 hour power reserve, a display case back shows it off, including the America’s Cup branding on the rotor.
All of the Regatta watches were released as special editions, with the OTUSA available with either a black or white dial housed in titanium three-piece (Trip-Tick) cases and limited to 235 units each. Handsomely efficient and with a novel approach to the problem, Bremont’s yachting duo are particularly impressive contributions from an under-the-radar manufacturer.
Rolex Yacht-Master II
Rolex Yacht-Master II ref. 116680
The start of Rolex’s cautious dalliance with more advanced functionality, the Yacht-Master II first was announced back in 2007. It was a massive departure from Rolex’s existing Yacht-Master watch, in both feature set and aesthetics. As a result, it was a somewhat polarizing effort among fans, something which has been tempered a little over the years with the release of some more underplayed color combinations.
The original, in solid yellow gold with a screaming blue bezel, was perhaps just a little much for some potential buyers. However these days, there are Everose Rolesor versions and all stainless steel models that are significantly more subtle, as well as a platinum and white gold piece which is positively monochromatic.
Even those who recoiled at the visuals couldn’t criticize the engineering behind it. The Yacht-Master II featured Rolex’s Ring Command Bezel, which links directly to the movement to unlock the watch’s various functions. Rotating the surround, engraved with numerals 1-10 (as well as the name of the watch in enormous letters in case you’d forgotten), opens up the programmable countdown timer. The wearer sets the duration of the countdown via the winding crown, and returning the bezel to the starting position locks, and (crucially) memorizes the setting.
Rolex Yacht-Master II ref. 116688
The timer is started with the top pusher, the elapsed seconds indicated by the sweep seconds hand, and the minutes by the red arrow on the horseshoe-shaped meter at the top. But the really clever part comes should the need arise to adjust the countdown. The lower pusher causes the seconds hand to reset and the arrow hand to synch to the nearest minute instantly, making the Yacht-Master II the first watch in the world with a mechanical memory and flyback functionality.
Key to it all is obviously the engine. The original references used the Cal. 4160, a heavily-reworked version of the Daytona’s Cal. 4130. Post-2013, the YMII has been granted a movement with a different name – now the Cal. 4161 – however functionality remains unchanged. With 360 separate components, it was the most complicated caliber Rolex had ever built, until obviously developing a taste for it, they brought out the Cal. 9001 for the Sky-Dweller’s GMT and annual calendar functions, which had an extra 20 bits shoehorned in.
While it may have split opinion, and continues to do so to some degree, the Yacht-Master II has become something of a celebrity favorite in recent years. NBA legends LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are both avowed fans, as is Mark Wahlberg and Conor McGregor, who are often seen sporting their 18k yellow gold models.
How much time any of those luminaries spend sailing in competitive regattas is unclear, but the unorthodox styling is clearly enough for them. Unquestionably among the largest, and definitely one of the most technically impressive showstoppers from Rolex, the Yacht-Master II makes a real statement whether on deck or shore side.