SMS: Rolex Yacht-Master II Vs. Panerai Luminor Regatta
In this Sunday morning column, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. This week we take to the waves, but stay above them for once. The Rolex Yacht-Master II and the Panerai Luminor Luna Rossa Regatta Chrono Flyback are approaching the start line, but first…
Last week, the battle we’d been waiting for took place. To be quite frank, it wasn’t the gritty tussle for which I’d hoped. It was a brutal onslaught from the get-go. RJ and the Royal Oak romped to a powerful victory, corralling 62% of the vote and leaving me and my Nautilus battered and bloody in a heap on the ground. The run had to end sometime. The magnificent seven is done and dusted. Now, it’s time to get back on the horse. This week, Ben and I have grabbed our favorite Yachting watches and donned our pristine white budgie smugglers for your guilty pleasure.
If you managed to get past that sentence without hurling your Sunday morning breakfast all over the screen, I applaud you. And now, without any further ado or unwanted references to our short shorts, let us begin.
You’re probably sick of my “hate to rate” stories, but here comes another one. When I first saw the Rolex Yacht-Master II I didn’t get it. I wasn’t a fan of the aesthetic (although I did think it was at least more interesting than its predecessor — a watch I still refer to in my heard as the “Submariner Admiral Edition”), but, more importantly, I just didn’t understand what it was for. Growing up in Manchester, the closest I came to yachting was pulling shopping trollies from the local canal in the hope someone had forgotten to remove their grocery shopping before dumping it there. Alas, I found naught but toads and scum. Thus, the Yacht-Master II was a world away from the world I knew. It was a Rolex. It looked fancy. But beyond that, it was just a big and unnecessarily complicated Sub. How wrong I was…
Would I buy it if I frequently “yachted”? Yes.
Even now, having gotten my head around the Rolex Yacht-Master II’s functionality (which is exactly what makes it the best yachting watch ever made — hands-down-no-argument-so-good-you-might-as-well-skip-Ben’s-bit-and-vote-now), I still don’t love it. Rather, I respect it. I respect it enormously. Would I buy it? No. I don’t “yacht”. Would I buy it if I frequently “yachted”? Yes. Why? because it actually does what a skipper needs it to. This isn’t an old complication, cleverly repurposed for a different field. No. This is built from the ground up with exactly this sport in mind.
Ben: Please do not skip my bit…
Rob: Oh, hi Ben. Thanks for joining us. Sorry about that… No hard feelings. I hope you brought your A-game because taking-down the Yacht-Master II will take some doing. It is so gloriously esoteric and effectively useless for anything but its intended use, it deserves to be endlessly extolled. It is the manifestation of a philosophy all watch designers should live by. You may not like it. You may never ever get the chance to use it as it is intended to be used. But it is a genius product that is so far ahead of the competition it’s in its own league.
So what is going on here? The Yacht-Master flatters to deceive as a standard chronograph. It is not. Those pushers are used to set, activate, deactivate, and reset the countdown timer, but it is far more complicated than that.
In the sexy (but largely uninformative) video on the Yacht-Master II landing page on the official Rolex site, the watch is described as, “an unprecedented combination of complexity and simplicity.” That is a fair description. The complication is exactly that — complicated. But the information is clearly displayed. Once you know how to set-up the watch and when to use it, it’s actually a breeze to interact with.
…to ensure they cross the start line at exactly the right moment.
Yacht races have a complicated starting procedure. This is due to the fact that wind-powered craft cannot just sit there and wait for a gun to go off or a flag to fall. Prior to the start of a yacht race, the boats hover around the start line, tacking and gybing to ensure they cross the start line at exactly the right moment.
Communicating the start time is the responsibility of a “signal boat”. The signal boat sends out messages to the participating skippers using both audio and visual cues (horns and flags). These signals are normally delivered with 5, 4, 1, and 0 to go until the start. The Rolex Yacht-Master II can countdown from ten minutes if necessary, so it has you covered.
Would that it were always so simple… Should the race committee make an error during the countdown (such as missing an audio signal) or nature intervenes to change the wind in such a way that the start line becomes unfair, the countdown can be interrupted. This is where the genius of the Yacht-Master II really comes into play.
Ben: The tides also play by their own rules and should not be underestimated.
Rob: Thanks, Captain Haddock (my favorite Tintin character, so please take that as a compliment, you salty old dog).
Before I explain what you would do in the above scenario, let’s take a moment to focus on how to set-up the Yacht-Master II for use. On the dial, you can see the hour, minute, and seconds hand (in the 6 o’clock sub-dial). Ignore these three hands. They continue to do their job in the background. The countdown timer comprises four elements: the bezel, the 10-0 counter on the dial, the centrally-mounted red seconds counter, and the large, triangular hand beneath the hour hand that counts down the minutes.
…the red seconds hand begins to tick and the minute countdown hand will creep downwards also.
To set the timer, you must first rotate the bezel anti-clockwise until it clicks — “position two”. Then depress the lower 4 o’clock pusher. This engages the setting mechanism. Unscrew the crown and rotate it clockwise. The minute countdown hand skips back from 0 all the way to ten, one whole minute at a time. Return the bezel to its normal position (so the numbers on the bezel line-up with the countdown scale on the dial). The lower pusher pops out again and the crown can be screwed in and the watch can now be used as a timer. By depressing the top 2 o’clock pusher, the red seconds hand begins to tick and the minute countdown hand will creep downwards also. This would continue all the way to 0 assuming there are no errors or interruptions…
But what if there is a problem? The countdown timer pushers start, stop, and reset the timer just as you might expect, but there is a clever fly-back function in play for skippers on the move. If you just press the lower pusher while the countdown timer is running, the seconds hand will snap back to 12. No surprises there. What is surprising, however, is that the minute countdown hand snaps back to the most recent minute. This enables the wearer to synchronize the time on their wrist with the shifted race countdown. Niche? You bet. Brilliance? The kind rarely seen…
…it justifies its bombast.
It is a 44mm beast. Pleasingly, it comes in stainless steel (as well as precious metal combinations for those who like a bit of bling). It’s heavy, but it earns its heft. Sure, it’s bombastic, but it justifies its bombast. It doesn’t pull any punches but it certainly packs a few. So come on Ben, what could possibly come close to this?
Bravo, Nuddsy. You sure did your research. Regatta racing is frenetic and can be exciting. But accounts for such a small portion of recreational sailing. The last regatta race I took part in was easily over ten years ago, and to be brutally honest, I do not remember if we won or came last. For anyone other than the skipper, all you can focus on is winching, transferring weight from port to starboard, and not falling off. Regatta timers are therefore only useful for the start of the race, and even then, only the skipper needs to track the countdown.
Even so, the chintzy Rolex you have selected is not up to the task. Yes, the programmable bezel is technically marvelous but far too fiddly in rough seas. Unscrewing the crown in choppy waters is one way to break the winding stem, or more commonly, lose the crown altogether. Trust me; I know this from first-hand experience when I was playing with the Yacht-Master II on a gently rocking pontoon.
Rob: Be that as it may, surely a good skipper would set the timer before he or she boarded the boat, no?
Ben: Perhaps, if this watch were genuinely the first choice for real-life skippers. This Rolex mostly finds itself in the yacht clubs worn by no sock, boat-shoe loving posers with anchor-shaped cuff-links. I can see the precious metal offerings in a 44mm case providing some benefit, however. If ever the anchor ever snaps off the chain of your windlass, which happened to me in the Adriatic Sea, just use the full gold Yacht-Master II.
And don’t even get me started on the Gold versions…
For me, the perfect regatta timer needs to be light and offer effortless and secure operation on rough waves. It should also come fitted to a suitable strap. Don’t get me wrong, the Oyster bracelet is one of the most proportionally perfect and practical feats in engineering history. But winching, hoisting, and helming will scratch up that 904L steel like no tomorrow. And don’t even get me started on the Gold versions… See for yourself below, with my own Daytona that bears the battle scars of a coastal voyage.
So for my choice, I am selecting the Panerai Luminor Luna Rossa Regatta. Or PAM01038 for all you Paneristis. The Luna Rossa Regatta is light thanks to the carbon fiber case construction, known as “Carbotech”. By applying thin strips of carbon fiber one-by-one with a binding agent, the case creates a unique pattern. Once bound, the cases are super-heated in a pressurized oven for a specific time. Carbotech is not new to Panerai, however. The Fratelli have already done the hard work in explaining Carbotech to the readers. But my selection demonstrates the practical application of a strong case that is lighter as a package, despite the larger 47mm cushion case, than Rob’s pick. At sea, you need a featherweight watch that can also take a few knocks without showing signs of wear.
The process of programming the countdown on the Panerai is even more straightforward than the Rolex. All you have to do is press the red button shown above. The central minute counter then shifts anti-clockwise in increments to the desired countdown duration — all without having to unscrew a weather-sealed crown. Unlike a certain “Yacht-Master” that Rob is peddling. The Panerai also has traditional chronograph counters so you can track the race time.
Panerai thought of everything when it came to this watch.
The pushers on the left-hand side of the case start and stop the chronograph. If that was not enough, the Panerai has the Flyback functionality that resets the seconds hand to zero without stopping. I have to say, Panerai thought of everything when it came to this watch.
The only element I would change is the black calf-skin strap pictured above. It is not ideal to mix leather with salty seawater spray. If you plan to use this watch for the intended purpose, or prefer a sporty look over a dressy look, then opt for the rubber strap that is also available for the watch. Ask for strap options for Rob’s choice, and they will make you walk the plank.
For most people, their first exposure to Panerai is something starring Sylvester Stallone. For me, it was mooring up in the Isle of Wight, during the Cowes Yacht Week. There, I saw multiple pale blue flags with the Panerai logo. Before long, I came across the yacht Eilean that was lovingly restored on commission by Panerai.
…sailing has been the clear identifier for the brand.
Interestingly, this was the same yacht that featured in the Duran Duran video for “Rio”. Since my intro to Panerai, sailing has been the clear identifier for the brand. Even more so than the Marina Militare. That is why my showdown watch of choice is the Panerai Luminor Luna Rossa Regatta.