Horology on the high seas

Regatta watches – which come with special yacht racing functions – will be on show in San Francisco Bay for the America’s Cup, reports Tracey Llewellyn

OF all the various genres of sports watch – diving watches, motor sports watches, polo watches, straight chronographs and more – perhaps the most esoteric is the regatta watch, intended for yacht racing. It’s a chronograph (stopwatch) with a specific extra function: an indication for the final few minutes leading up to the start of the race. In yacht racing, the start can determine the whole outcome, as boats tack up and down for the best position, aiming to be behind the “line” but sailing at full speed when the start canon fires. As the starting sequence of the race is signalled for the five minutes leading up to that point, the watch can count this down.

There are plenty of regatta watches on display currently in San Francisco Bay, where the toughest, fastest, most expensive regatta of them all takes place in September: the 34th America’s Cup. Right now, the Louis Vuitton Cup – a series of races that determine which team takes on the current Cup holder, Oracle Team USA, in the final challenge – is underway. Three teams, Luna Rossa (Italy), Artemis (Sweden) and ETNZ (Emirates Team New Zealand) are competing in super high-tech, ridiculously expensive AC72 catamarans.

With huge amounts of controversy already engulfing the competition – including the tragic death of British Olympic sailor and Artemis crewmember Andrew Simpson, arguments over rule changes, boycotts of early races, low crowd turnouts and reports of disgruntlement from sponsors – the stakes could not be higher. As if they aren’t high enough anyway: speaking to City A.M. in San Francisco last month, ETNZ skipper Dean Barker said the cost of participation has been in the region of $100m, with R&D as important a part of the process as the abilities of the eight-man crew to compete in the fastest sailing conditions on “flying” catamarans. In a competition where technology, skill and perfect timing – not to mention a fair bit of glamour – come together so dramatically, watch companies are inevitably keen to be involved. Accompanying ETNZ on all of its journeys around the San Francisco Bay, then, is Omega’s Seamaster Diver ETNZ, a suitably rugged watch featuring design details requested by Dean Barker and his team. The watch is presented in team colours of black with red and white highlights and, on the caseback, the ETNZ logo and the words “Challenger for the 34th America’s Cup”. It’s a seafaring timepiece right down to its 300m water-resistance, uni-directional turning bezel (of super-tough ceramic) and helium escape valve, all classic diving watch features. And of course it has a regatta countdown indicator, which here takes the guise of a 5-minute counter around the right-hand chronograph subdial. As Omega CEO Stephen Urquhart emphasises: “It is not a gimmick, it is a useful feature that sailing teams genuinely need.”