Transatlantic Dash

Seasoned skipper Stefano Valente prepares for the world’s most challenging yacht race

Today, a fleet of yachts embarked on a race across the Atlantic, set to traverse 3,000 nautical miles through non-stop trade wind-powered sailing. The fourth edition of the international Panerai Transat Classique will see over fifteen classic and vintage vessels dash from Lanzarote to the Caribbean isle of St. Kitts. Crews must tactically navigate the archipelago of the Canary Islands before tackling the Antilles, mastering wood, water and wind.

At the start-line sits Eilean, a 22-metre Bermudan ketch built in 1936 by the renowned William Fife Shipyard in Scotland and faithfully restored by Panerai, the Italian watchmaker who has been sponsoring the race since 2005, but whose relationship to the sea stretches back to 1860. Originally founded in Florence by Giovanni Panerai as a workshop, shop and school of watch-making, for decades it officially supplied the Royal Italian Navy and its specialist diving corps with precision instruments. These designs, including the Luminor and the Radiomir, were covered by the Military Secrets Act and only made public in 1997.

Before the expedition, Port talked to the skipper of the Eilean, Stefano Valente, about the siren call of water, racing and adventure.

What first drew you to sailing and how long have you been on the water?

I had my first sailing experience at the age of 16, when I joined the Italian Navy Corps to do my degree. During the sports classes I attended the sailing courses, which I enjoyed very much. But my attraction to sea started even earlier, since my parents had a small motorboat we used during our vacations when I was a kid. So, I’ve been on the water for over 40 years.

Have there been any stand out races you’ve competed in over the years? What made them memorable?

Since I’ve been on Eilean since she was refitted, I’ve participated at all the Panerai Challenge Races for 9 Editions. Thanks to the fantastic crew(s) past and present, all of those races were memorable. A special race, given the wonderful landscape and sea side – as well as the particular weather conditions – was the race around the island of Cowes in 2012.

Are you only as good as your crew?

It is determinant to have a crew that works together in harmony and efficiency.

Why are yachts suitable boats for swift, long distance racing?

Eilean has been designed as a cruising yacht rather than a racing or performing yacht. Therefore, she is much more suitable and fit to face different weather conditions which, on a long-distance race, you are likely to encounter.

How has Eilean’s original 1936 body been restored and refined for the 21st Century?

The restoring and refurbishing works took nearly 3 years. While her metal frames have been completely replaced, more than 70% of her planks are still the original ones, just as all the hatches, the rudder and the steering system. Obviously, systems like hydraulic, electric and electronic system and propulsion have been entirely replaced. Also, the navigation and communication system are of the new generation, adequate for today’s class requirements.

When do you know you’ve won, or lost, a boat race?

Already during the race, one gets an idea of whether you have chosen the right winning strategy. Of course, the communications of the race comity and of the other attendees’ position allows you to understand your possibilities of winning the race.

Which 3,000 nautical mile is the hardest?

Probably the last part of the race will be the hardest one, since the crew – after weeks out on the sea – will be rather exhausted…and we might struggle holding the glasses full of Caribbean rum while toasting at the end of our adventure.

Time and Light: Candela

Port speaks to the team behind the bold new Panerai design collaboration, Candela, currently on display at the Salone del Mobile in Milan

Candela – the hypnotic, slowly rotating, glowing circle, originally produced for Officine Panerai at the London Design Festival – has landed at this year’s Salone del Mobile. Designed to develop the key elements of the historic watch company founded in Florence in 1860, the installation mirrors the brand’s focus on design – which functions as much a vocation as it does for research and innovation – and draws visually on the luminescent dials which, since they began supplying the Italian Navy, have come to characterise the brand’s watches.

Named after the unit used by scientists to measure the luminous intensity of light, Candela was dreamt up by a British design team comprised of designer Felix de Pass, graphic designer Michael Montgomery and ceramicist Ian McIntyre. Now currently exhibited as part of the Salone del Mobile at La Triennale di Milano, an art and design museum in Milan, until 22nd April, it will eventually become part of the permanent display for the exhibition. Here, Port spoke to the team about how the idea developed, the significance of working with Panerai and what it means to be part of the Triennale’s permanent collection.

Could you describe Candela?

Candela is an immersive time-based installation. Combining digital and analogue technology, the project experiments with the light-retaining properties of the phosphorescent material used on the face and dials of Officine Panerai watches. The installation consists of a large mechanical wheel that gently rotates through 700 programmable LEDs housed within a ceramic casing. The face of the wheel is coated with a phosphorescent material that becomes charged by the light sources. The LEDs are programmed to turn on and off in a sequence that creates a perpetual ebb and flow of luminous patterns. The rich layering effect is a form of mark-making that exploits the ‘memory’ of the phosphorescent material and how it changes over time.

Where did the idea for Candela come from and how did it develop?

Panerai asked us to create an experience which offers a new view on the concept of light and time, based around the brand’s key values and philosophy. For us, Candela summarised all of Panerai’s values and at the same time it looks like a design object.

Candela installed in La Triennale di Milano

What did it mean to work with Panerai on this project?

This project gave us the chance to utilise and experiment with specific light-retaining properties, and the material Super-LumiNova typically found on the face and dials of Panerai watches. It was also an exciting challenge to combine the digital with the analogue, applying a high tech approach (using 700 individually programmed LEDs) with a low tech result (light is retained physically within the Super-LumiNova, before fading over time). This is how watch makers must feel all the time!

How did each of your particular disciplines come into play on this project?

We all come from different design disciplines but each of us collaborated equally on every aspect of the project. This created an exciting dynamic and led to unexpected solutions. The form of Candela was carefully detailed, we were able to hide the motor within the base to make it as simple as possible, and the back was just as important to us as the font. Super-LumiNova starts life as a solid ceramic, so this played to Ian’s strength and is why we decided to house the LEDs in a ceramic casing. The graphic patterns were developed by all three of us on site and are programmed through a theatre lighting desk which made it easy for us to play around with what worked.