The Holy Sea
To celebrate the Luna Rossa sailing team’s bid for the America’s Cup in 2024, Panerai have released a new range of watches that includes a special-edition Carbotech. THE RAKE held on for dear life as we were treated to the thrilling Panerai Luna Rossa Experience in the Mediterranean...
Travelling on choppy water at 54 knots (100km/h) in the 2000 HP chase boat was a wet, knee-crushing, G-force- wrenching, face-distorting yet immensely exciting experience spoiled only by the fumes from the four massive outboard engines. We were hanging on for our lives, as even the smallest shift in direction threatened to send us flying into the Mediterranean waters off Cagliari in Sardinia.
We were on the Panerai Luna Rossa Experience, a two-day adventure introducing the lucky owners of 37 special-edition Panerai watches to the thrills and high technology of America’s Cup yacht racing and to the horological delights of Panerai’s new Luna Rossa timepieces. As one of the longstanding sponsors of the Italian America’s Cup team, Panerai supports the astonishing technical innovation and research that Luna Rossa’s team undertake as they challenge for the 37th America’s Cup in Barcelona next year.
We were being shown the dubious delights of 54 knots to graphically demonstrate the speeds of which an America’s Cup yacht is capable. While the chase boat burns hundreds of euros’ worth of fuel an hour, Luna Rossa finds her power for free in the Mediterranean winds. Or not quite free, for behind her is a team of nearly 120 people in impressive modern facilities at a naval base in the harbour at Cagliari, where, supported by sponsors like Panerai, Pirelli, Prada and The Woolmark Company, they are working hard to find the edge to win the America’s Cup in October 2024.
It’s in this struggle for technical superiority that Panerai find parallels with their own pursuit of timekeeping excellence. The histories of Panerai and of the America’s Cup come together on and under the waves. Panerai’s timepieces have their origins in the requirement for military watches to be durable, accurate, water resistant, legible and, above all, simple in design. The company was founded in 1860, when Giovanni Panerai supplied instruments such as gun sights to the Italian navy. From 1935, in collaboration with Rolex, they designed and supplied dive watches for a secret project: developing manned torpedoes for underwater warfare.
Several prototypes were made, and the final choice was the Panerai Radiomir (named after the luminous radium paint on the dial) reference 2533. At47mmindiameter,thiswashalfaslargeagainasmostmen’s watches of the time. However, its robust bulk and legible dial formed the template for the classic tool watch that is the Panerai of today.
The technical and scientific developments required to produce these underwater watches has parallels with the research and testing required by America’s Cup teams to make them competitive — what the Panerai Chief Executive, Jean-Marc Pontroué, describes as “a shared heritage”. Until relatively recently a sailing boat’s speed was limited by its length on the waterline and the friction of its passage through the water. However, the development of the hydrofoil and its use in the America’s Cup since 2013 has changed all that, and boats now travel up to four times faster than they did 10 years ago. Once under way, the only immersed parts of the boat are foils in the rudder and the leeward side, which create the lift that allows the boats to effectively fly under the massive power generated by their wing-shaped carbon fibre sails.
The boat we were shown in Cagliari was the AC40, a smaller one designed for youth and female crews. It will be used to prepare for the completion of the AC75 Luna Rossa, the 21.7-metre boat that will be raced next year. These crafts are constructed from the lightest space-age materials, carbon, Kevlar and aluminium honeycomb, combining extreme lightness with huge strength. By the rules, only human power can be harnessed for adjusting sails and foils, and this is produced by crew below deck on stationary bikes. The riders are expected to produce more than 1,000 watts of power at periods when it’s needed as the boat manoeuvres at each mark on the course. One of the more challenging parts of the experience was being invited onto bikes in the team’s gym, where we discovered exactly how hard it is to produce a fraction of that power for even a few seconds.
We were royally received by members of the Luna Rossa crew and team, who gave their time to show us the high-tech nature of the boat. The team director and skipper, Max Sirena (who’s been on two America’s Cup-winning teams), told us that technology and human endeavour have to work together for success, but that the challenge would effectively be won now by the training of the crew and the constant search for technical excellence in the boat’s design. As well as experiencing the efforts of the Luna Rossa team, we also ate well, surfed, practised our nautical knots, and honed our sailing skills in the Luna Rossa simulator, which had most of use weaving wildly across the course while the opposition romped home well in front.
To celebrate this cutting edge project, Panerai have released four Luna Rossa Luminor timepieces costing between £6,400 and £8,700, and a fifth, the impressive 37-piece Luminor Chrono Carbotech Luna Rossa (£41,400), whose owners are granted access to the experience. The Carbotech is made from a carbon-based lightweight and scratch-resistant composite material and DLC-coated titanium with a sapphire caseback — similar to the high-tech materials used in the construction of Luna Rossa. Case sizes vary between 38mm, 40mm, 42mm and 44mm for the Carbotech. Panerai are, in line with other watchmakers, responding to demand for smaller watches — a far cry from the 47mm hulks that started the trend.
For a Briton, the America’s Cup is something of an embarrassment, as no British yacht has won the ‘Auld Mug’ since it was first won by the yacht America in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. I will, of course, be supporting Ineos’s British challenge next year, but having made so many friends and been so impressed by what I saw on the Panerai Luna Rossa Experience, I’ll also be sneakily cheering on Luna Rossa.
Read the full story in Issue 91, available now.