Sailing Through Time, Legacy, and Craftsmanship

Esha Aphale | October 8, 2023 | Art

The Eilean stands as a profound testament to Panerai’s deep-rooted connection with the ocean and its rich history. In 1936, the same year when the first prototype of underwater watches were crafted for the Italian Royal Navy’s Commander Submarine Group One, the Eilean was constructed. This exquisite sailboat, originally conceived during the inception of the original Radiomir timepiece, embodies Panerai’s unwavering dedication to preserving tradition and upholding the highest standards of excellence.

After a meticulous restoration process initiated by Officine Panerai in 2006, the Eilean now symbolises the brand’s maritime heritage and its commitment to heritage preservation. It serves as an apt personification of Panerai’s roots and their enduring relationship with the ocean, echoing back to the brand’s beginnings with the Italian Navy. Once the Eilean was finally ready to be reintroduced to the world, she traversed the oceans she had in her previous life.

Eilean’s beautiful restoration preserves her former glory by highlighting her graceful curves, and her sail setup which follows the classic Bermudian ketch style with two masts, each sporting a large triangular sail. Today, the Eilean is celebrated as a masterpiece of maritime engineering, a timeless vessel that encapsulates the essence of Panerai’s legacy and craftsmanship.

The Eilean

In her disassembled state, Eilean confronted a formidable obstacle when considering a solo Atlantic crossing. As a result, an innovative approach was formulated in December 2006 — she was delicately loaded onto a cargo vessel, reminiscent of the transportation of an immense parcel.

The initial leg of her expedition encompassed a sea tow that spanned roughly 150 miles, beginning in Antigua and culminating on the shores of Martinique. In a measure of prudent foresight, Eilean had been outfitted with inflated balloons, to ensure a substantial reserve of buoyancy, capable of countering any potential water seepage, or, in the most dire scenario, averting a potential descent into the depths.

Upon her arrival in Martinique, a specialised yacht carrier was summoned to complete the formidable task of hoisting Eilean onto its deck. In the course of an extensive voyage, covering a distance of approximately 4,000 miles, she was ultimately offloaded at Genoa’s Voltri port in February 2007.

At this juncture, a meticulous sequence unfolded as she was gingerly lowered back into the water and subsequently towed to Viareggio. It was here that the meticulous process of her restoration commenced, an undertaking of paramount significance entrusted to the skilled hands of the Francesco Del Carlo boatyard during this interim phase.

At the boatyard, skilled artisans dedicated their expertise and meticulous care to the restoration of the Eilean. They tended to the ship’s composite Burmese teak planking and zinc-plated metal skeleton, even utilising a single tree sourced from Alaska to reinforce the bowsprit, boom, and mizzenmast. Over a span of 40,000 hours, their unwavering commitment allowed them to successfully revive the Eilean, transforming it into a splendid ketch with a rich history of effortlessly completing 36 Atlantic crossings.

The helm of Eilean

With a composite hull, which is a  fusion of the finest Burma teak planking, forming the boat’s exterior, and zinc-plated metal reinforcements, the Eilean deviates from traditional wooden elements. Remarkably, this same construction methodology was applied during the restoration process. Despite the challenging state of Eilean before 2006, nearly all of its original 4-centimetre-thick teak planking was rescued. The beams, frames, and ribs were joined together using the time-honoured technique employed in the 1930s.

The boatyard’s iconic Fife Dragons have been faithfully re-carved on both sides of the hull, preserving their original placement with heads gracing the bows and tails adorning the stern. The name “Eilean,” etched into the wood on the transom, remains unaltered, carrying its Gaelic meaning of “little island” from its inception.

 Eilean’s Fife Dragons

In a tribute to its illustrious history, interwoven with a rich tapestry of captivating narratives, Officine Panerai has undertaken a dedicated mission to cultivate a profound and enduring appreciation for the vibrant sailing culture. In its fourth year of touring, the Eilean is charting a course that encompasses the shores of Turkey, France, Spain, Italy, and Malta. It transcends mere travel and turns into a journey that reverberates with the echoes of Panerai’s heritage and its resolute dedication to pioneering innovation.

This emblematic vessel stands as a poignant symbol in this narrative, reaffirming Panerai’s enduring kinship with the maritime world and its fabled lineage. Concurrently, as Panerai unveils the Radiomir collection this year, it pays tribute to its illustrious past, intricately woven with the Royal Italian Navy’s legacy from the 1930s.

The marriage of cutting-edge innovation and the refined aesthetics of Italian craftsmanship are showcased through these iconic timepieces, taking centre stage on the venerable Eilean yacht, where they harmonise seamlessly with the brand’s maritime heritage. This endeavour serves as a heartfelt homage to Panerai’s indomitable maritime heritage and its unwavering devotion to the realm of sailing, impeccably synchronised with the historic significance of the Eilean yacht—an embodiment of the Maison’s opulent maritime history and its relentless quest for pioneering excellence.

Words by Esha Aphale.
Image courtesy Panerai.

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