The months leading up to this trip had me asking myself repeatedly, “how am I doing this?”. Through a long, somewhat random string of events, I received an invitation to join a crew leaving from Cleveland, Ohio, and arriving in Antigua to compete in the Royal Ocean Racing Caribbean (RORC) 600. An intense sailboat race stretched over several days, covering a 600-nautical-mile offshore course. Using the surrounding Caribbean islands as buoys, over 70 boats would try to make it through the course while sailing nonstop through the night and in potentially inclement weather. What a way to kick off my third-ever sailing season.
We all have aspirations. That new watch, your dream car, the house you never thought you would be able to obtain. Growing up in a low-income household of five, I had a lot of those dreams. The one that always stood out, however, was learning how to sail a boat. We didn’t know anyone who sailed, we didn’t live all that close to any body of water, and I definitely did not even know that you could sail on the Great Lakes. Still, I knew that at some point, I would find myself on deck with the spray hitting my face and the wind in my hair. What I was fortunate enough to have, however, were hard-working and encouraging parents. They taught me two invaluable lessons: how to properly network and to never say no to an opportunity.
That is how, twenty-some-odd years later, I found myself at a bonfire chatting with a friend of a friend who happened to have just bought an Ericson 29 sailboat named Escapade. Captain Scott Curry, thereafter lovingly referred to as ‘Cappy’, invited me to join his crew the following spring. From the first moment I stepped onto the deck, a broad smile cracked open on my face and did not fade until I told anybody and everybody about our first cruise. I was fortunate to meet someone who saw my excitement for sailing and helped nurture it into a passion. After two years of consistent sailing on Cleveland’s Lake Erie, I still crack that same smile every single time we shove off.
Another lesson I’ve learned over the years is that when trying something new, it helps to look the part but still ask every question. Having the correct gear for the situation is crucial, not just to be properly prepared for the task, but to blend in as well. As with anything, sailors are a particular bunch. Everything is looked over and scrutinized, from your choice of deck shoes, clothing, hat, and, yes, your watch. Joining a crew of very experienced sailors to enter a prestigious and globally known event, looking the part helps you fit in and can instill comfort and confidence in an otherwise jarring experience.
For this trip, I’d be relying heavily on the tools that I’d bring; the proper clothing for a wide variety of conditions, a good pair of grippy deck shoes, my trusty hat, sunglasses, gloves, and of course, a watch built to be tough, equipped with sufficient water resistance, and a highly accurate movement. My clothing was a mix of technical clothing that was quick drying, sun protectant, and had plenty of stretch. My packed gear included my rain jacket, gloves, sunglasses adorned with a secure string holder, a toiletry kit, and a small stuff sack with my sleeping gear. As for the watch, I chose the Citizen Promaster Dive BN0196-01L to accompany me on this once in a lifetime voyage. A new entry from Citizen watches in their Promaster Sea collection, it sports a warm gold-toned stainless-steel case with a unidirectional dark blue bezel and a sunburst, dark navy dial set below the luminous gold-toned applied indices and three-hand set.
The demands of this race make efficiency, timing, and organization paramount. Sailing the boat The Spirit of Juno, a Farr 65 weighing in at over 60,000 pounds and 65 feet long, requires a lot of work and attention to detail. Throughout the next three and a half days, our crew of sixteen people were divided into two watch shifts that would exchange roles every four hours for the duration of the race. During your on-deck watch shift, you are responsible for tactics and driving, keeping the speed up, making changes when needed, and progressing toward the finish line. On the change, the off-shift would head below to quickly eat and try to get much-needed sleep to be ready when they were recalled.
As the race began, the waterproofing on the Promaster Dive was immediately put to the test. Although the downpour of rain and hard splash from the Caribbean Sea was enough to set off one of our crew member’s hydrostatic life jacket, it did absolutely nothing to test the ISO compliant and 200 meters certified water resistance the Promaster Dive was built to withstand. At no point throughout the race did the constant threat of heavy rain or water submersion cross my mind as an issue for this rugged timepiece. Everything down to the polyurethane strap was designed and built to be comfortable, stay in place, and take any rough conditions thrown its way.
Progressing through the race, we saw the entire crew start to tire and drain. Sailing itself is a physical challenge, let alone for over three days straight in four-hour shifts. That’s where timing becomes crucial. Not just to do the race countdown and elapsed time but to make sure that people are given enough time to properly prepare for their shifts, timing meal rehydration, and marking time for sail trim checks. Thanks to the features of the BN0196-01L, those tasks were tracked easily, even with an exhausted brain and waning comprehension.
Citizen’s caliber E168 Eco-Drive movement is purpose-built for accuracy and did not disappoint. Through my own testing, it did not gain or lose a single second from the first day I put it on my wrist. The barely transparent light-permitting dial meant that the intense Caribbean sun would keep the watch ticking without any work on my end. This is especially important in regatta racing. Having a reliable and accurate watch is paramount in timing the starting gun and making crew shifts on time. A few seconds lost can sometimes make all of the difference in a tight race.
With space on the boat being limited, freeze dried meals are often used as an easy way to pack in calories while still having a variety of food options on board. The simple cooking method of just adding a few ounces of boiling water into the packet to rehydrate the food also makes for a clean cooking alternative. Using the time elapse bezel helped to ensure you waited the appropriate amount of time for your meal to rehydrate before digging in. Lack of sleep and calorie consumption can cause even the heartiest of sailors to convince themselves that the time needed to rehydrate the meal has come and gone, only to open their pouch and find a watery meal. Having the simple added security of a rotated bezel to keep you honest means a fully developed and ready to eat dinner.
Thanks to the luminous hands and markers, the watch face shone brightly throughout the night on the deck shifts and the below deck during the off shifts. With the BN0196-01L’s simple design, legibility was never a problem. Even after the second straight day, waking up groggy and blurry-eyed, it was a pleasure to quickly read the time and roll back over to sneak an extra five minutes of shuteye.
Ultimately, I couldn’t have asked for a better companion for the trip. Thanks to a combination of intentional design dimensions and an incredibly comfortable strap, the Promaster Diver never left my wrist. It took the same beating we all did but came out with only a tiny scratch on the buckle, significantly less than the rest of the crew. Now, every time the sun hits the dial, the burst of blues and slight greens emit flashbacks of the Caribbean Sea and a rockstar crew of mostly strangers from across the world that challenged the most professional boats in the fleet. Despite all of that, Citizen’s newest entry received more compliments than I did over the course of this incredible adventure making me feel more comfortable and confident in an otherwise intimidating situation. Sometimes, the gear helps to break down barriers, other times it outright improves the experience.