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Panerai HERO

Panerai's Classic Yachts Challenge series was this year visited at Cowes by 36 cars running in HERO's Summer Classic Reliability Trial

Panerai HERO

Cult watch brand Panerai, famous for its nautical links, drew 60 vintage yachts to the Isle of Wight this summer for the second edition of its British Classic week. The event forms part of the brand's international Classic Yachts Challenge series, which sees some of the world's most beautiful old sailing boats racing at nine locations in Europe, the Caribbean and the USA.

There was an unusual twist to this year's British Classic however, because the 60 yachts were joined by the 36 cars that turned out for the Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation's (HERO) Summer Classic Reliability Trial and Tour,which started at the Cowes yacht haven in the heart of the Panerai regatta' village'.

The Royal Yacht Squadron hosted a dinner the night before, and day one of the trial involved driving tests in front of the main regatta marquee followed by regularity and road sections around the island, with the route finishing at Osborne House before the cars were loaded on to the ferry for the crossing back to Lymington in advance of tackling the remainder ofthe three-day event, which included stages at Beaulieu, Goodwood and Thruxton.

Most rally competitors only had to think about their performance on dry land, but Royal Marines Corporal Danny Keogh and his colleague Lance Corporal Greg Harrold were faced with the task of taking part in their long-wheelbase Land Rover before also crewing in the regatta on the final day of racing in order to raise money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines charity.

Panerai's Classic Yachts Challenge - which started in 2005 - has proved so successful that the Italian brand has now bought and restored its own classic yacht, a 22-metre Bermudian ketch that was built in 1936 at the renowned Scottish shipyard of William Fife and Son for a wealthy ship-owning family, the Fultons, who used her to commute from their waterside home in Greenock to their dockside offices on Clydeside.

By the 1980s 'Eilean' (Gallic for Little Island) had passed through the hands of several different owners and crossed the Atlantic on no fewer than 36 occasions, enjoying a brief spell of fame in 1982 when she was chosen by pop group Duran Duran to appear in the video for the hit..,; single Rio.

But the yacht was subsequently left to rot at a mooring in Antigua, where she was discovered by Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati, who quickly spotted an opportunity to enhance his firm's maritime connections by buying the boat and having it restored. The project was finally completed last year and a book about the project has just been published. Eilean, a Classic Yachtby Francois Chevalier is available from Amazon and major book stores. It costs £80.

Panerai produces a special edition regatta watch to coincide with the start of each year's Classic Yachts Challenge series. The 2011 model is a titanium-cased version of the 47 mm Luminor Submersible 1950 with three-day power reserve, GMT function and regatta countdown timer. It costs £7100.

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