Of all the functions available in mechanical watches today, few are as indispensable as the yacht timer. The most important part of a yacht race unfolds in the 10 minutes before it begins, when sailors need to wangle their vessels into the best start position without barging the line (facing steep penalties) or hitting another boat before the final gun. In an America’s Cup race, a mistake like this could cost millions.
Essentially, the regatta watch is a modified chronograph that, rather than measuring intervals of time, counts down the starting sequence for boat races, usually 10 minutes. Few brands keep a yacht timer in their collections for very long; most are issued as limited editions, often in association with a single race, and it is perhaps because of this that regatta watches typically do very well on the secondary market. The industry standards are the Rolex Yacht-Master II and the Panerai Luminor 1950 Flyback Regatta, but several other brands have issued noteworthy versions from time to time, including Bulgari, Hublot, Omega, Louis Vuitton and Girard-Perregaux. The classic regatta watch shows a highly legible scale counting down in sync with either the 10 minute or the 5 minute starting gun. The Yacht-Master II is distinctive in that it starts the countdown at the 10-minute gun but can also be re-synchronized to the five-minute gun for greater accuracy. A perusal through the brands introducing new models next week in Basel reveals only one that highlights a new yacht timer: Alpina, for whom the regatta watch is something of a specialty. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be others. Sailing buffs, stay tuned.