On arrival to the Isle of Wight, I was reliably informed that I was hugely fortunate to be at the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge this year on a dry day. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to experience the wonderful British summer, you will be well aware it is notoriously fickle. By all accounts, the last few years have been ‘rained off’, so I was grateful for the somewhat balmy 32°C for the two days I was there this week.
The Classic Yacht Week is in its 15th year now. And in that time, it has become the premier classic yacht regatta here in the UK. The regatta makes up part of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge, which has been held in Cowes every year since the America’s Cup Jubilee in 2001. For the non-boaty among you, it is essentially an international circuit for classic sailing yachts, where owners from around the world get together to go hell for leather against one another in twelve races from Antibes to Antigua — in turn, preserving a beautiful sub section of the yachting world.
Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, is the home for both the sailing itself and the Royal Yacht Squadron, which organises the regatta alongside the British Classic Yacht Club. Having not come from a sailing background, my first questions to the race organisers was ‘what condones a classic in yachting terms’? Well, as it happens, purely it’s aesthetic. The hull material tends to be wood, steel or iron and usually built before 1970. However some wooden yachts have been accepted, which were built after this date —really, what I came to recognise was that they just have to look the part! And boy were there some beauties on show!
With around 60 grande dames of the sea in the line up, the race was quite a spectacle. The list of entrants included a number of eight and six metre yachts as well as the glorious William Fife III-designed 31-metre gaff cutter, built at the W. Fife & Son yard in 1911.
At lunch, I had the pleasure of sitting next to two members of the Royal Navy mine clearance team, which I was only made aware of when I spotted that they were both sporting their Limited Edition Submersible Panerais. It’s wonderful to see such passion from servicemen for their tools. Having queued them about the watches, they told me it was really a speculative phone call to Panerai regarding a run of watches for their team which culminated the 50 run Limited Edition. Given 50 were made, and that their team is 250 strong, some from the team missed out on the special watch. The only criteria for team members to be able to buy a watch was that they had to be currently serving. They were both immensely proud and grateful to Panerai for the opportunity to collaborate. I’ve said it for a long time, watches are all about storytelling — and this is one exceedingly charming example.
Some opted to spend the afternoon gently bobbing in the Solent admiring the classics from a distance. Some opted for the high speed RIB. I opted for the latter. I found it truly enthralling speeding up and down the Solent. A few onboard didn’t. The speed and splash combo may have been too much (which I have to confess I found hilarious in the knowledge we were in safe hands).
This was the final yacht we tracked before coming into the harbour. Don’t ask me which year she was made, nor where she finished, all I know for sure was that she was a looker!
Sun, sea and sailing. it doesn’t get much better.