Running starts aren’t usually allowed in races, but a regatta isn’t a typical race. Boats can’t neatly line up and jump off the blocks like a runner would, so they instead build speed heading towards the start. Skippers have to be careful, however, not to pass the starting line before the starting gun is fired. This balancing act of building too much speed and being steeply penalized versus not quite building enough speed can determine the race before it’s even fully gotten underway. That’s why, beginning in the 1950s, watch brands began producing yacht timers.
In the beginning, these watches primarily featured rotating bezels that skippers could use to track the time before the start of the race. The watch would be set on one of the first series of horns blown leading up to the start of the race, giving an accurate countdown to the start. Of course, over time, watchmakers began to innovate how this countdown timer was displayed. It’s these more complicated versions of the vintage yacht timer, with their innovative sub-displays and colorful counters, that really catch the eye.
Memosail V.I.P Steel Yacht Timer
What we like: Rather than featuring a rotating bezel, the navy dial set in this squat 41mm case features a cut-out section that displays a 10-minute countdown. Both that countdown timer and the minute and hour hand are driven by a Swiss manual winding valjoux 7737 Caliber movement. Overall, this yacht timer looks every bit like a vintage tool watch from the 1970s – and it’s all the better for it.
From the seller: In nice, unpolished vintage condition. Blue dial goes from sea blue to almost black under different light. Fitted with a new nato strap and ready to be worn.
Lemania Elvstrom Automatic Yacht Timer
What we like: Rather than relying on a numbered countdown, this big 44.7mm vintage yacht timer from Lemania Elvstrom features five cut-out markers between the 10 and 2 o’clock indices. When the countdown is set on the watch, those markers go from grey to orange and then to blue. The complication is a clever one – and it wouldn’t work as well as it does if it wasn’t for the fact that everything from the case to the dial and the sting-ray strap (yes, you read that right) wasn’t so muted and understated.
From the seller: Automatic Lemania in-house caliber 1345 movement. Fantastic condition case, with original sticker on the back. Very small wear on the glass, nothing major, and it is not scratched, just the wear of the AR.
What we like: While the previous two watches we’ve included here relied on cut-out displays on their respective dials, this watch features a countdown that looks more like a subdial. The decidedly more conservative approach to this display makes it a bit easier to cross over to daily wear while still retaining all the functionality needed to gauge the right approach speed.
From the seller: The watch is in excellent condition over ll, with only slightest of wear marks and slight signs of previous polishing. The black dial is clean and uniform with crisp printing throughout. Luminous hour maker material is intact. Baton hour and minute hands show signs of having been re-lumed. Acrylic bezel is in very good condition with a few areas of superficial chipping. Includes one 20mm brown leather strap with contrasting stitching.