Yacht timers – also referred to as regatta timers, yachting chronographs, or sailing watches – are watches specially designed and made for the countdown to the start of a sailing race.
Over the decades there have been numerous yacht timers and specialized chronographs produced by the world’s watch companies. Perhaps the most well-known yachting timer today is the Rolex YachtMaster, but there are others, past and present. Current and recent pieces include those from Tutima, Alpina, Atlantic, Omega, Panerai, and IWC, as well as electronic offerings from TAG Heuer, Suunto, Tissot and others.
Vintage models – the regatta timers of old – are not common and highly collectible now. Sailing chronographs like the Heuer Autavia Skipper, the Regate (sold under three different brand names – Aquastar, Heuer, and Tissot), Heuer’s Yacht Timer (both wrist-mounted and stopwatch form factor), the Breitling Chronomat and SuperOcean (both in regatta timing trim), the Memosail, Lemania’s self-branded Regatta Yacht Timer in handheld stopwatch format, and the Wakmann and Wyler.
How A Regatta Timer Works
Regatta timers have various ways of indicating the countdown time. There’s typically a multi-colored or numbered disc rotating beneath the dial with the colors or numerals showing through windows similar to a date disc. Five vari-colored dots – usually blue followed by red (Alpina, Regate), numerals against colored backgrounds (Memosail), or a separate chrono hand coupled with colored zones on the watch’s bezel (Tutima, Bretling, Heuer) or indicating time remaining to the start via a separate scale within the dial (Rolex).
Heuer’s Autavia Skipper was part of the legendary Autavia line in the 1970s. It featured the Autavia’s classic tonneau shaped case, a red, white, and blue countdown sub-dial at 3 o’clock, a small seconds at 10 o’clock, and date at 6. Chrono pushers were in the classic locations at 2 and 4, but the crown was positioned at 9 o’clock. The watch featured a 60 minute rotating bezel, and examples are often see with a blue dial & bezel combination.
Heuer’s Yacht Timer from the 1960s came in both a wrist-mounted version and a handheld stopwatch form factor. Color-wise, regatta timer dials are never shy, and the Heuer is no exception. This watch was basically a fifteen or thirty minute stopwatch (there were at least two versions) with a multi-colored dial formatted and printed for the countdown function.
Aquastar’s Regate, also branded and sold as Heuer, Tissot and other brands such as “Racing” in the early 1980s, used a Lemania movement with a classic five-dot/ window format, with a tri-colored rotating disc beneath the dial. five windows for five minutes, and once the timing started the colored wheel would progressively show thru the windows, changing them one at a time from blue to red to white (or silver).
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Breitling produced watches in regatta timing trim in both the Chronomat and SuperOcean lines. The Chronomat featured a center mounted minute with a multi-colored inner chapter ring. The SuperOcean used the center-mounted totalizing hand with a multi-colored bezel. These black-cased watches featured Venus 178 or 188 movements, modified to handle the unique needs of a yachting chronograph.
Another 1970s piece, the Memosail has an almost art deco look with its round lugless design, and wide rounded bezel (another version was cushion-shaped). The dial is easy to read with blue and white concentric rings. The countdown function is a curving window from 12 to four o’clock showing the letters S-T-A-R-T on a rotating ring. When the timer is activated, the minutes 10-9-8-7-6 appear against a yellow background, ticking half a notch every 30 seconds. The final countdown minutes 5-4-3-2-1 then appear against a red background. The internals were a Valjoux 7737, a modification of the 7733.
Lemania’s self-branded Regatta Yacht Timer is another handheld stopwatch format timer. The timing function is the familiar series of five windows with a colored disc beneath, but with the letters S-T-A-R-T replacing the third color (similar to the Memosail). This can also be seen on the Wyler version.
- Aquastar Regate
- Heuer Regate
- Heuer Regatta
- Heuer Skipper
- Rolex YachtMaster
- Wakmann Regate
- Wyler Vetta La Giraglia
- Yema Yachtingraf
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