Panerai channels its nautical past with an annual series of classic yacht races.
By Laurie Kahle, August 12, 2011
As today’s America’s Cup carbon fiber speed demons embody state of the art marine technology, classic wooden yachts hearken to a more genteel, nostalgic era of sailing. Each April, devotees of elegant wooden boats converge on Antigua in the Caribbean to indulge their passion for sailing’s more romantic side at the annual Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, sponsored by Panerai watches. This year’s event drew about 60 competing boats from all over the world, classified as Vintage (launched before 1950), Classic (built between 1950 and 1975), and Spirit of Tradition (modern boats built with classic styling).
“When you see a big, modern yacht, you immediately think about how much it costs,” pointed out Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati as we strolled the docks of the marina at a previous Antigua event, which kicks off the annual Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge series of regattas in the Mediterranean, the United Kingdom and New England. “With classic yachts, you think about the beautiful details, the dreams they evoke, freedom, tradition, values.” Bonati naturally links these values with his watch brand, which once produced underwater timepieces for the Italian and Egyptian navies.
Classic regattas celebrate that form almost as much as function. “Here, you get a prize for looking pretty,” said Elizabeth Jordan, commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club, which organizes and runs the event that debuted 24 years ago with 24 boats.
Indeed, aesthetics are a big part of the spectator appeal of these events. “It’s quite the pageant, isn’t it?” commented Donald Tofias, owner of Wild Horses (built by his W-Class Yacht Company), as we motored out of the harbor among a fleet that includes Tall Ships, J-Class yachts, and Spirit of Tradition yachts, such as his. Kenny Coombs, the regatta’s founder and chairman, credits Tofias as the father of the Spirit of Tradition class of modern boats built in the classic style using modern materials and construction techniques.
“My boat is high tech and modern, it just looks like an old boat,” explained Tofias, who has built five W-Class vessels at 46 feet and 76 feet (Wild Horses and White Wings) and recently launched a 37-foot model that he says is very light and fast. W-Class yachts are built using a technique known as cold molding. The two-inch-thick hull consists of five layers of epoxy-saturated strips of western red cedar and Douglas fir, which are laid over the boat’s internal frame and vacuum bagged to seal the bonds. “Wood can be engineered today to be lighter and thinner and faster with the use of epoxy than it could be 100 years ago, when boatyards like Fife designed big, heavy panel-on-frame boats,” he said.Panerai PR371 watch
Much like Tofias’ approach to boat building, elite watchmakers such as Panerai embrace modern technology while honoring the traditions of the craft. And to mark each Classic Yachts Challenge season, Panerai introduces a special limited-edition timepiece. This year, Panerai offers the Luminor Submersible 1950 Regatta 3 Days GMT Automatic Titanio – 47 mm, a professional diver’s watch that resists water down to 300 meters. The rotating bezel features a graduated scale for calculating dive duration and a second time zone is a handy feature for travelers.
At the 2011 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, Antigua islanders plan to welcome home their beloved Eilean, a 1936 Bermudian ketch built by the famed Fife boatyard of Fairlie, Scotland. Bonati spotted the rusting wreck in the mangroves of English Harbour in 2006 and was instantly smitten by her refined bone structure and elegant lines recalling the J Class yachts of the 1930s. Convinced she would make an impressive brand ambassador, Panerai purchased her, transported her to Italy in the belly of a cargo ship, and spent nearly three years restoring her to her former glory.