Racing a sailboat takes precision. Tacticians are constantly judging your speed relative your competition and making strategic decisions; the navigator is monitoring the tracking, bearing, and course setup; and the helmsman is adjusting the movement of the boat as he eyes that competitor who's somehow just out of reach. At the starting line of any race, it can get dicey, and tactics are key. This is where boats dodge each other within feet and jockey for position as they make their way toward the linewhen they're not in the right spot, hulls smack, and the ear-piercing sound of fiberglass cracking echoes across the water. But if you've timed your zigzag toward the start just right, you fly over it just as that final gun goes off.
Suunto Mariner sailing watch
Suunto Mariner sailing watch
This crucial positioning and timing makes a good watch essential. With so much happening, and massive boats criss-crossing in front you, you don't want to waste your time squinting down at some less-than-precise instrument, hoping you can gauge your time to the start through the glare of the sun beating off the water.
Five successive guns were fired off at the beginning of each day of racing at Antigua Sailing Week, in the Caribbean, and throughout the week our tactician used the Suunto Mariner and its myriad functions to check our time to the start, get a read on our compass heading, and track our progress, as compared with our competitors. A sail timer allows you to count down to the start of the race, with beeping notifications going off each successive minute, five minutes before the start. This allows you a no-hands reference to where you should be positioned and how much time you've got to get set up for the right approach toward the line. Plus, once the countdown is over, the feature goes right into chronometer mode and starts tracking your race time. It's ideal to keep an eye on what kind of progress you're making.
You can also use the Mariner's stopwatch feature simultaneously. This is handy when it comes to adjusted time on the course. For example, another boat in our class had to surrender just over four minutes to us to keep adjustments fair and accurate based on boat size and speed. On the last day of racing, we watched as they crossed the finish line in front of us. Setting the stopwatch feature as they crossed the finish line, we eyed it as we approached the line, celebrating when we crossed with just over a minute to spare. Other handy features include a digital compasshandy for quick-checks on the coursea barometer and barometric trend indicator, thermometer, and, oh, yeah, an electroluminescent chronometer.
I also wore the Mariner snorkeling in Christmas Cove off of the Virgin Islands' Greater St. James Island; parasailing off St. John; and running in Santa Fe (the chronometer and stopwatch come in handy for just about anything). Do yourself a favor and pick up one of their neoprene bands ($25). Our tactician used the band over his foul-weather gear when he crossed the Atlantic on a classic ketch, but for everyday use, it simply minimizes the watch's shifting on your wrist, closing that annoying gap between you and the metal clasp of a watch band. Plus it doesn't dig into your wrist when you're typing up reviews. $249; www.suuntousa.com.