This report is about the kick-off of Panerai’s new approach to Limited Editions, the Panerai Comsubin Experience. Panerai now offers buyers a unique experience when they purchase one of their special and highly limited models. This year, at SIHH 2019, we saw three different models offered, each including an exceptional package.
We explained this already briefly in our article on an interview with Mike Horn; these three special editions are linked to two Panerai ambassadors and Panerai’s history employing the Italian Navy or Marina Militare. Concerned models are the Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition (PAM983, 15 pieces), the Submersible Mike Horn Edition (PAM985, 19 pieces), and the Submersible Marina Militare Cartbotech (PAM961, 33 pieces). All in the 47 mm size.
As said, lucky customers who were able to acquire one of these special edition watches have the opportunity of enjoying the Panerai Comsubin Experience. Freediving with Guillaume Néry in the ocean depths of French Polynesia, learning about nature and how to safeguard it in the company of the legendary Mike Horn, or a training session with Comsubin a special forces group of the Italian Navy. The Comsubin Training Session was the event to kick-off this series, and we were thrilled to be asked by Panerai to cover this first hand.
The Comsubin Special Forces have their headquarters in the fortress of Varignano, near La Spezia in Italy. This fortress was built as lazaretto (a quarantine station for maritime travelers) and warehouse in 1724 under the Republic of Genoa. In 1808 the lazaretto passed into service of the French Navy, and became later part of the Kingdom of Sardina and then the Kingdom of Italy. Then, in 1910, the fortress became the headquarter of the Regia Marina divers. During the first and second World Wars, the fortress of Varignano became the seat of the naval divers who trained for their war exploits. Since 1952, the fortress became headquarter of the Navy Raiders, which in 1960 transferred to Comsubin. Still today the fort is their headquarter, and this is where most of the Panerai Comsubin Experience took place.
The Panerai Comsubin Experience was an action-packed three-day event. Arrival-day, experience-day, and despite-day. It held activities like 50 knots assault boat transfers, scuba diving, agility course, helicopter flight, zip-line crossing, assault rifle shooting, and a visit to a vessel carrying hyperbaric helium dive chambers. I’ll briefly explain the activities, with as many pictures as possible, one by one below.
Arrival day was used for air transport (people flew in from all over the world), safety briefing, the supply of camouflage suits, and medical check-up. Due to a strike at Schiphol airport, my flight was severely delayed, and I missed most of it, however, was just in time to join for the evening program of the Panerai Comsubin Experience. Adequate to get the Italian feeling, all participants were transferred by vintage scooters to a wonderfull dinner beach-side.
The dinner was the opportunity to mingle and get to know the people who’d be your buddies for the activities to come. And at this point as well, Mr Jean Marc Pontroué, CEO of Panerai, addressed his welcome speech to the group.
Finally, Experience Day was here; this is where we’ve all had been eagerly waiting for. The day started early at 6:30 AM, and we got the advise to have a light breakfast
The journey from our hotel in Forte dei Marmi to the Teseo Tesei Naval Base at the Varignano Fortress would have been an hour and a half by car. Or 30 minutes by a Navy assault boat. That seems an easy choice, however ‘flying’ over water at speeds up to 100 km/h is not something to take lightly. Fortunately, we didn’t get much of a choice, so the next thing happening was embarking the boats.
During the trip, we encountered the Rolls Royce powered Angelo Cambrini. A new high-speed multipurpose patrol boat of the Marina Militare, which will embark special forces units from the navy and is able of speeds up to 32 knots. A spectacular view, specifically from a few meters distance at full speed.
And then, just before entering the Teseo Tesei naval base harbor there was an Italian submarine leaving. Another spectacular sight.
After reaching the naval base, first up in the Panerai Comsubin Experience program was a scuba dive exercise. Not just a recreational dip in clear blue waters, but some activities in the murky water of the naval harbor. First, without air tanks, regulator and breather (but with fins, a mask, and weight belt), a floating ball had to be put into a net at -2 meters. Then the diver had to proceed to -4 meters and follow a line on the bottom for five more meters. At that point, a Marina Militare diver was waiting for the diver with his or her BCD, air tank and breather.
The second part of the dive had to be fulfilled without a mask, which then later the diver had to put on and clear at the bottom of the harbor. All and all a nice experience and quite different from ordinary activities of recreational divers.
Next up was an obstacle course, the one that nobody was able to finish. It ended in an uphill run to a platform where a helicopter was arriving to pick you up for a flight to the old Muzzerone fortress. The fort was built in 1870 and served during both world wars. Now it’s a training base for the Comsubin special forces.
I’ve never experienced a kind of helicopter flight like this. Still shakey from the obstacle course, I had the impression that the helicopter hardly flew horizontally. I remember flying pointing nose-down and cornering at a 90-degree angle. The views were breathtaking as well.
Once arrived at the fortress I was glad to find some shade and water – and I wasn’t the only one – before the program went on with a zip-line crossing over a 200-meter deep and 100-meter wide canyon.
This might not be for everyone, but the last exercise of the first part of the day was the shooting of two different types of automatic assault rifles. After being adequately instructed about the use, and well informed about the risks of using this kind of weapons, there was the possibility to try out the HK MP15 and the incredibly sophisticated HK 416. The latter explicitly being used by the Italian and US special forces. I tried both weapons and must say shooting the HK 416 is an ultimate experience.
After having followed the advice of a light breakfast early in the morning, after the shooting session, most of us were happy to head off by an army truck to the Naval Base’s mess to enjoy a nourishing meal. And Italy wouldn’t be Italy if even on a military compound a meal isn’t finished by an espresso 😉
After lunch, the Panerai Comsubin Experience program became more bearable. Again by fast RHIB assault boats, the group was transported across the La Spezia harbor to MV Anteo.
Anteo, with military registration A 5309, is a submarine rescue ship of the Italian Navy, assigned to Raggruppamento Subacquei ed Incursori “Teseo Tesei”, short Comsubin. An exciting facility at the Anteo is the DRASS Galeazzi SRV-300 deep-submergence rescue vehicle for submarine rescue up to 300 m deep. And complementary to this, or for the use after diving in helium clocks at great depths, three decompression chambers.
The whole system of decompression routines, which divers have to follow after deep helium gas dives, were explained and showed to us. Three divers were inside of a helium bell, and it was interesting to learn how these procedures are and how communication with these divers is carried out. We even could go into the decompression chambers and feel for ourselves how tiny these are. Bear in mind that divers have to stay here sometimes up to eight days before they can go out into an atmospheric environment.
The visit to the Anteo vessel ended the active part of the event. However, in the evening, the real end of the Panerai Comsubin Experience was adequately celebrated with a great dinner. This time we were brought by classic cars to a beautiful venue in the hills above Forte de Marmi, overlooking the bay. Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué thanked the present Marina Militare Comsubin personnel, as well as us participants to the Panerai Comsubin Experience.
To me, it’s an incredible achievement that Panerai was possible to organize this experience together with the real Marina Militare Combusin special forces. As the participating marines told us ‘this is not Holywood, this is the real deal’. And I have to admit it was tough, but that was precisely the difference with any other events I participated in in the past.
Thank you very much, Panerai, for the opportunity to take part in this ultimate experience!
Gerard has been in the watch industry for over two decades now. He owned a watch shop in The Hague, The Netherlands, and besides that he has journalistic and photographic activities in the field of watches. Collecting watches since he... read more