A life on the ocean wave…what could be more idyllic! I’ve long been a fan of the Isle of Wight but never attended Cowes, so when we were invited to attend Panerai British Classic Week 2016, we jumped at the opportunity. After a pleasant train journey from Waterloo, we arrived at Southampton Town Quay, ready for an exciting transfer by RIB boat to the Isle of Wight. Luckily, our bags were travelling separately!
It was our first time on a RIB, or rigid-hulled inflatable boat to give the full title, and I was dressed slightly inappropriately. At least I’d deliberately opted for flat, waterproof shoes, but my sailor-themed dress kept blowing up once we picked up some speed ;-). The experience was really exhilarating, and we were advised to stand up in the choppier sections as that way you minimize any strain on the body.
Panerai British Classic Week
In no time at all, we arrived at The Panerai Lounge in Cowes, located next to Cowes Yacht Haven. A luxurious haven of calm, it’s assembled and transported to each of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge regattas such as Antibes, Antigua, Cannes, Nantucket and Newport
Cowes itself is a charming place, and since the founding of the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1815, it has been the home of international yacht racing. In addition to the world’s oldest regatta, Cowes Week, it also plays host to the Panerai British Classic Week in July. Panerai, the renowned watchmaker, themselves have a long standing maritime connection.
The brand was actually founded in Italy in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai. He set up the Officine Panerai workshop and the city’s first watchmaking school in Florence. Panerai became the official watch supplier to the Royal Italian Navy, and created Radiomir especially for them. This patented radium-based powder ensured the luminosity of the watches and was particularly useful for their frogmen divers in the Second World War. In 1949, Panerai launched a new patent, Luminor, also a self-luminous substance. The Luminor model has held iconic status with the world’s collectors ever since, being one of the most coveted “tool watches”. A tool watch is one that has a useful function, such as diving or rock climbing, as well as aesthetic appeal, so a watch after my own heart.
Panerai watches were not available to the general public until 1993. They rapidly became popular, even more so when Sylvester Stallone bought a Panerai Luminor in Rome in 1995. He liked it so much that he bought a batch as gifts for friends and the brand became the huge success that we know today. It’s now owned by Richemont, and maintains its headquarters in Florence, with manufacture in Neufchatel, Switzerland – the best of both worlds!
I couldn’t resist trying on the new Luminor Due 3 Days Automatic. It boasts automatic winding and a very sophisticated movement, the P.4000 calibre. Although it’s ostensibly a man’s watch, the thickness of the case has been reduced by about 40% so it doesn’t look out of place on a woman’s wrist.
A laid-back sailing lesson
After enjoying refreshments in the lounge and admiring the watches, we set sail aboard the elegant Yavanna. This classic wooden yacht was designed in 1965 by Alan Buchanan for the Earl of St Germans who was a keen sailor. He wanted a boat that could race competitively and yet be comfortable enough to live aboard all year round if required.
Yavanna certainly has a luxurious feel, and she’s as sprightly now as she was in her younger years. We enjoyed taking the helm, thankfully supervised by the captain.
Paul in particular proved a dab hand at steering, so I ventured to the bow to see the race action. For a novice, it can be hard to tell what is actually going on, but I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the skill of the sailors competing. We then transferred to Lysander, another boat, for an amazing lunch on the top deck, complete with a chilled glass of white wine.
The George, Yarmouth
After lunch, we headed to our hotel to freshen up. Handily located in the centre of Yarmouth, The George is a historic hotel in a 17th century townhouse. King Charles II stayed in one of the rooms in 1671, whilst visiting the Governor of the Island. The garden leads directly onto the sea front and many of the rooms have direct sea views. Our comfortable suite had all mod cons including tea and coffee making facilities and even an ironing board.
Dinner at Osborne House
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s former holiday home is one of my favourite British stately homes. Osborne House is truly magnificent and I can see why Queen Victoria loved it so much. Built between 1845 and 1851 in the Italianate style, it has an extraordinary yellow colour, as luminous as one of Panerai’s watches!
In the company of the charming Yana, Daen, Ram and other guests, we enjoyed a reception on the terrace. We’ve visited before and there’s actually a little beach at the bottom of the hill with a charming café. Another of the highlights is the Swiss Cottage, which Prince Albert commissioned for his children.
Yet perhaps the most incredible feature is the Durbar Room, designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling. Queen Victoria was Empress of India and although she never had a chance to visit, this room is designed to reflect that status.
Normally you can’t take photos inside the house, so it was a huge privilege not only to dine here but also to be able to capture those memories on camera.
Dinner itself was a delicious menu of chicken liver pate, fillet of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes (my favourites!) and a trio of lemon cheescake, berry sorbet and chocolate mousse.
After dinner, we had a peek at the State Rooms with their marble columns and original chandeliers.
After a good night’s sleep, we arrived bright and early in the Panerai Lounge. Everyone was so friendly there and I needed no encouragement to try the watches on again.
I love the detail on this watch, it’s “skeletonised” to enable the wearer to see most of the movement through the porthole on the back of the case. It has a black leather strap but Panerai are particularly well-known for their huge selection of straps and many clients change theirs frequently.
The Hut, Colwell
After a morning sail, we had worked up an appetite for lunch, so we headed by RIB to The Hut at Colwell Bay. Panerai had teamed up with Mount Gay Rum to arrange a relaxed lunch with gambas pil pil, seafood linguini and a white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake with ginger beer sorbet and white chocolate flake. Of course, it was washed down with some delicious rum cocktails!
Hailing from Barbados, Mount Gay was established in 1703 and is the oldest rum in the world. It’s long been associated with sailing so was the perfect choice to accompany our meal. I had the pleasure of sitting next to the Mount Gay brand ambassador, who was understandably proud of the company’s unique achievements!
After lunch, I couldn’t resist a photo in front of the colourful beach huts next to the restaurant. How fun it would be to own one of these.
We just had time for a little more sailing before freshening up for dinner.
The Royal Yacht Squadron
Considered by many to be the most prestigious yacht club in the world, the Royal Yacht Squadron celebrated its bicentenary in 2015. It was founded in 1815 and its patron is Queen Elizabeth II, with Prince Philip being the Club’s Admiral. Guests to the Castle don’t usually dine in the main dining room so we were exceptionally lucky to experience it. The Commandeer, who was seated next to me, gave a speech about how impressed he was with Panerai’s values, and it’s true that from what we observed, they’re a genuinely warm and unpretentious group, who really care about quality and design.
The Club has a long association with the Royal Navy, so it was fitting that two of our dining companions were from here. They use their Panerai watch regularly whilst diving, switching to a rubber strap to avoid wear and tear.
What a wonderful end to a fabulous visit to Panerai British Classic Week…but wait, one more surprise was waiting for us outside…
…this seal, gently raising its paws which locals tell me is a regular visitor to the shores. It clearly has impeccable taste!
Have you ever been sailing or to the Isle of Wight?