Back in the day of gentleman sailboat racing, skippers – or more probably, their tacticians – wore yachting watches. A regatta timer (a timepiece that helped with gaging the start of a sailing race) was critical to getting over the start line first, and thus taking away any starting advantage a competitor may have had.
Rolex’s original Yacht-Master was and is a beautiful watch in its own right. But it’s nothing more than a glorified Submariner, built to satiate Rolex patrons who can afford a premium price for a sport watch. It certainly is no regatta timer.
The Yacht-Master II, on the other hand, IS a regatta timer – a yachting chronograph. In case you’re not familiar with yachting chronographs, they’re a special genre of chronographs, with movements typically specially designed or uniquely modified to count down the last five, ten, or fifteen minutes before the race starting gun sounds. If you think about it, you realize sailboats can’t just line up and wait for the green flag to drop. The constant maneuvering just before the start is a key part of implementing the racers’ overall strategies for the race. A skipper wants to be first to the line, but not jump the gun. There are penalties for that.
With the Yacht-Master II, and its caliber 4161 column-wheel chronograph movement, Rolex applied their usual unique approach to solving time measurement challenges. As such, the watch was the most complicated watch Rolex had ever built at the time of its introduction. (One could argue that the Sky-Dweller has taken over the top spot in current Rolex complicated watches.)
When it debuted in 2007, the Yacht-Master II was available only in several combinations of precious metals. Doing so pushed the retail price of the watch sky-high. The timer finally came out in stainless steel in 2013. The corresponding price drop made the watch much more accessible to desk skippers everywhere. Frankly, it also made a lot of sense. A tool watch should be made of the material most tools are made of.
Briefly, the Yacht-Master’s regatta countdown timing function works like this. The countdown timer is programmable from one to ten minutes in one minute increments. After setting, you can synchronize with the race starter on the fly for precise timing of the start. And there’s also a mechanical memory function so you can reclaim your starting configuration.
The bi-directional “Ring Command” bezel is integral to programming the timing function of the watch. That’s unique, because rotating bezels don’t usually interact with the watch movement. Among other things, that’s another path for water to enter the case. Rolex has dutifully addressed the issue, however. The case is water resistant to 100 meters.
So if you’re contemplating getting into yacht racing (which has been compared to standing fully clothed in a cold shower while tearing up $100 bills), be sure the budget allows for a regatta timer for your wrist.