East Coast Challenge

By: iW Editor   December 28, 2011

iW recently joined Panerai on each leg of the North American circuit of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge  

By Michael Thompson, Jonathan Bues and Scott Richardson

In what has become a tradition for the avid sailing communities of the east coast of the United States, the North American circuit of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge kicked off in August at Corinthian Yacht Club, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The title sponsor of the worldwide sailing series, Panerai, granted International Watch special access to all three stops of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge held in North America, so that we could report back on the regattas and the activities surrounding them.

Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta
The event that begins the classic yacht regatta season in the Northeast is the Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta, a 31-year-old competition that joined the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in 2010. It is in Marblehead that many of the crews who will later sail in Newport and Nantucket convene, though Marblehead remains the smallest and most localized of the three competitions. This year, however, there were a number of entrants from quite far afield, including the Antigua-based yacht Mariella, which sailed north to compete in the three regattas for the first time.

The 2011 North American circuit also welcomed  a new charity partner for the Classic Yachts Challenge. Sailing Heals is an organization dedicated to organizing sailing outings for patients suffering from cancer and other illnesses. Together with their caregivers, these patients are provided a peaceful, healing and memorable experience on the water. A number of the captains in the three regattas and their crew hosted Sailing Heals patients on the days before each competition.

The Corinthian Classic Yacht Regatta kicked off on August 12 with sixty-five boats registered to compete over the weekend. The weather conditions were favorable for the first day of racing, Saturday, with generally good winds throughout the day, the only exception being the very end of the race, when the wind cut out and made for a very dramatic finish. Many of the larger yachts benefitted from momentum, passing the nimbler, smaller boats as they came to a near stop on the windless water.

After the day of sailing on Saturday, Panerai hosted participants in the regatta at a dinner in the yacht club’s dining room. The evening honored legendary yachtsman, sailmaker, and America’s Cup winner Ted Hood, a Marblehead native, who regaled the attendees with stories of races in years past, ships built under near-impossible time constraints, and more.

When the ships returned to racing on Sunday, the conditions were not as favorable, with overcast skies, sporadic rainfall and mixed winds. Nonetheless, a winner did emerge in Black Watch, a 68-foot yacht captained by Trevor Fetter of Dallas. For his victory in the race, Fetter received a Radiomir 8 Days GMT from Panerai North America president Rafael Alvarez.

Opera House Cup
Panerai’s sponsorship of Nantucket’s Opera House Cup makes sense on so many different levels.  Sailing vessels and mechanical watches share a lot in common.  Both use basic natural forces to perform, both have had enormous impact on human history, and, in today’s world, both have become absolute luxuries whose original reason to exist has been usurped by modern technologies.  And that’s just fine.  Pure pleasure is motivation enough to enjoy a day under sail on the water, or to accent it with an occasional glance at a finely made timepiece.

For the 2011 Opera House Cup, Panerai commissioned an unusual and historically relevant vessel, the Nantucket Lightship, to highlight the occasion. The Nantucket Lightship is one of the few remaining examples of the type still in existence. Prior to modern navigational aides, these lightships were used as mobile “lighthouses” where no permanent structures could be built, identifying dangerous waters, or harbor entry points to maritime traffic.

The Nantucket lightship, with its bank of two ultra bright light towers, was saved from mothballs and initially converted to a luxurious private residence for the owners.  Today, the Lightship serves as a host vessel for various events, adding both an historical and a “cool” element to any occasion.   It seemed every boat that passed by had both cameras and conversations focused on this maritime rarity.

On race morning, blue Panerai banners were snapping and tugging at their halyards on a brisk wind. In most forms of racing a good start is important.  In yacht racing, it’s critical.  Time it right and you cross the start/finish buoy at the very moment the start cannon booms. Too soon and you get to circle back and cross the start line again, a move sure to end any chance at a trophy.

International Watch was a guest of the captain and crew of the Saphaedra, a 47-foot-sloop built in 1965.  We checked our watches and synched them to the boom of the “three minutes to start” cannon. Jamie, our skipper, managed to place us at start line so close to the inside marker we could have touched it – just as the “start of race” cannon fired.

Once past the frenetic pace of the start, the sails and course were set and we were off on the first leg. We made our way around the course without incident and at the finish had to perform a last-minute tack to finish just ahead of a boat we had been running with at various stages of the regatta.

Later that day, the teams, press and sponsors all gathered at the awards ceremony to discover the winners in the different categories.  Panerai’s own North American President, Rafael Alvarez, was on hand to present the winners with a beautiful Panerai watch. The honor went to a local boat, the 46 foot “W” class “Equus”, and her Skipper Wendy Schmidt. Sportsmanship abounded as the rest of the teams congratulated the winners and their efforts and reveled in the simple fact that they had all shared a great day on the water.

The Museum of Yachting Classic Yacht Regatta
The third Regatta for Panerai took place in Newport, R.I., on September 3rd and 4th, and was held in near perfect weather. Winds were strong, but not too gusty, and the sun remained brilliant. The races began amid the choppy waters of Narragansett Bay for the circuit’s finale regatta. This heat is officially The Museum of Yachting Classic Yacht Regatta, in partnership with organizing authority Sail Newport, and it drew a fleet of fifty-five boats from throughout the region.

Saturday’s course was clockwise around Conanicut Island. A breeze out of the south pushed back against the ebb tide and made for choppy conditions at the bay’s entrance. On Sunday the larger boats headed south to round R4 and then north toward Prudence Island before finishing between Goat and Rose islands. Conditions were much like the day prior, with strong southerly winds again at about fifteen to eighteen knots.

Gary Gregory, owner of Valiant, walked away with a Limited Edition Panerai timepiece as the overall winner of the Museum of Yachting Classic Yacht Regatta and received his titanium Luminor Submersible 1950 Regatta GMT from Panerai NA President Rafael Alvarez. Trevor Fetter’s Sparkman & Stephens yawl Black Watch received the trophy for the overall winner of the North American Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge. The W-76 Wild Horses, owned by Donald Tofias, won the circuit’s Spirit-of-Tradition Division Award.

Each boat that was first-in-class in the following categories received a Panerai Barometer from Alvarez: Wild Horses, which won the Spirit of Tradition fleet; Valiant took first place in the classic non-spinnaker class; Belle, helmed by owner Joe Loughborough, won the 6-Meter division; Firefly captured the S-Boat class; and Columbia took first place in the 12-Meter class.

The Museum of Yachting Classic Yacht Regatta was first held in 1980, when a group of New England yachtsmen looked around Newport harbor and saw classic yachts that were once glorious decaying before their eyes, which led to the organization of this classic regatta to raise awareness for these endangered vessels.

For more than 25 years, the Museum of Yachting has worked to preserve the culture and heritage of yachting. The Museum celebrates the traditions of yachting through the presentation of informative exhibits and educational programming. In 2007, it merged with the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS), located across Newport Harbor, and together the two organizations coordinate exhibits, events, and restoration projects.

The current project is restoring the Coronet, a boat built in 1885 for American industrialist Rufus T. Bush. During her first five years, Coronet earned fame as a trans-Atlantic race winner and circumnavigated the globe as one of the first U.S. yachts to round Cape Horn. San Francisco-based Jeffery Rutherford of Rutherford Boat Works, working with restorer Robert McNeil, is leading the restoration. The group will undertake the completion of the restoration of Coronet on the school’s campus in Newport.

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