Corum and the Admiral’s Cup

John Masefield was a merchant seaman. He was also a poet. His poem Sea Fever describes his experiences while at sea—his words resonating deeply with all those who live and love the sailing life.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
— Sea Fever, John Edward Masefield OM, Poet Laureate of the U.K. 1878–1967

We’ve come a long way since John Masefield was a merchant seaman, when the clear call was answered and sailors sailed to the latitude of their destination.

The journey from then to now has been rife with disasters, filled with acts of courage, and marked by technology breakthroughs. Today, sailing is fine art. In the early eighteenth century the marine chronometer was a major technical achievement. Now we have radio beacons, radar, the gyroscopic compass, and the global positioning system (GPS). And sailors compete in arduous and challenging ocean races, such as the Admiral’s Cup, wearing watches like Corum’s Admiral’s Cup AC-One 45 Tides watch with a mechanical movement that drives indications of the strength of the current and height of the tide, the strength of the tide, the time of the tide 24 hours, and the lunar cycle.

First, let’s take a look at the technology breakthrough in the eighteenth century, then the legendary Admiral’s Cup ocean race, and finally three of Corum’s Admiral’s Cup collection of watches—all dedicated to the sailing life.

The Marine Clock – Turning the Tide

If you were a sailor in the early part of the eighteenth century, you’d use dead reckoning as a navigational tool. And you needed more than a star to steer your ship by. Navigators used to sail to the latitude of their destination, then they would turn toward their destination and follow a line of constant latitude. This meant that a ship couldn’t take the most direct route or a route with the most favorable winds and currents, putting both the sailors and the ship at risk.

Navigation error leads to 2,000 lives lost

What turned the tide was the wreck of the Royal Navy fleet in October 1707. The fleet was sailing from Gibraltar to Portsmouth when it was wrecked off the coast of the Isles of Scilly with the loss of nearly 2,000 sailors. It was determined that the primary cause of the catastrophe was the navigators’ inability to accurately calculate longitude. Following the naval disaster, the British Parliament offered the Longitude Prize of £20,000. Today, that’s £2.75 million or US$4.4.

Marine clock determines longitude at sea

In 1730, John Harrison, an English inventor and horologist, designed a marine clock to compete for the prize. He invented the first chronometer sufficiently accurate to determine longitude at sea. It was a huge challenge to make a clock that was not affected by variations in temperature, pressure or humidity, that was accurate over a long period, that resisted corrosion in salt air, and that was able to function on board a constantly moving ship. It took Harrison five years to build his first marine clock.

After spending 17 years on his third marine clock, Harrison finally abandoned the idea of the marine clock as a timekeeper. He realized that a watch-sized timekeeper would probably be more feasible and realistic—a watch could incorporate a balance that, although smaller, oscillated at a much higher speed. His accomplishments benefited not only the field of navigation, but also the entire world—journeying by sea was a much safer enterprise.

We’ve come a long way since then. Today, we have the reliability and precise timekeeping required for navigation; for example, Corum’s special edition Admiral’s Cup Tides 48 watch provides information on tidal forces and evaluates water levels and the strength of water currents.

The Admiral’s Cup Ocean Race – Competing for the Cup

An ocean race such as the Admiral’s Cup demands sailors with stamina and courage, imagination and self-discipline. Boats that are tested to the limit for their endurance and speed. And precision marine navigation equipment such as the GPS, compasses, and highly sensitive GPS navigator marine watches.

Even so, storms can strike suddenly and disasters such as the Royal Navy fleet wreck in October 1707 can occur. But not from the navigators’ inability to accurately calculate longitude.

Admiral’s Cup transforms ocean racing

It was in 1957 that members of the British Sailing Club, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), launched the Admiral’s Cup ocean race, which became one of the most legendary races in the world. It was a biennial event occurring in odd-numbered years between national teams.

The Admiral’s Cup race takes place in six legs: three Olympic triangles, a coastal route, and two races at sea: the Channel Race and the Fastnet Race, which is the climax of the Admiral’s Cup competition.

The Fastnet Race is between Cowes and Plymouth by Fastnet Rock in the Irish Sea. The Fastnet Rock is the southernmost point in Ireland, just 6.5 km southwest of the rocky, but inhabited, Cape Clear Island near Roaringwater Bay. The rocky coast and frequent storms make this a dangerous coast for ships. Thus, the Fastnet Race is recognized as one of the most difficult sailing competitions in the world.

Freak storm pummels the Admiral’s Cup race

In 1979, there were as many as 27 countries competing for the Admiral’s Cup. On Monday, August 13, when the yachts started the last race of the series, the Fastnet Race, it was a pleasant day with a 15-knot wind. Progressively, the wind picked up. By midnight the crews were in the middle of the most violent storm in the history of ocean racing. Mayday calls were sent out in the early hours of August 14.

It was an unexpected Force 10 gale (wind knots between 48 and 55, waves 29 to 41 feet high) that wreaked havoc on the over 306 yachts taking part. Half of the yachts competing went missing in a 20,000 square mile area of the Irish Sea. Five were sunk, 100 suffered knock downs, and 77 turtled due to the high winds and mountainous seas—only 86 completed the race. An amazing feat as they not only did so over the most difficult part of the race, but also while battling a Force 10 gale with waves of up to 40 feet. The Australian team of Police Car, Impetuous and Ragamuffin took the Cup for the first time since 1967.

Largest rescue operation takes place since Dunkirk

Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel rushed to the aid of the racing crews. The rescue operation of over 4,000 people, including the entire Irish Naval Service’s fleet, lifeboats, commercial boats, and helicopters, made it the largest such operation since the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. The Royal Navy coordinated the efforts to find around 80 vessels and rescue 136 crew members. The death toll was 15 yachtsmen and 3 rescuers. Increased safety requirements resulted from the tragic finale of the 1979 Admiral’s Cup.

The Admiral’s Cup series consisted of 23 events. It was one of the world’s greatest sailing regattas and one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of sailing. Countries that assembled at Cowes on the Isle of Wight to compete in these events included the U.K., the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, plus a succession of European nations.

The last Admiral’s Cup event was in 2003 and was won by Australia. It was cancelled in 2005, so unless RORC can revive the Admiral’s Cup ocean race it is, unfortunately, destined to become part of sailing history.

Admiral’s Cup Watch Collection – Capturing the Sailing Spirit

Corum and the Admiral’s Cup ocean race are inextricably intertwined. In 1960, in tribute to the Admiral’s Cup and to men of the sea, Corum launched the Admiral’s Cup collection of water-resistant watches.

To this day, Corum’s collection is associated with all major sailing events, and it counts on two exceptional sailors as part of its ambassador’s family: triple gold and silver Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie, and veteran global ocean racer and multihull skipper Loick Peyron.

As well as its collection of watches, Corum has sponsored the Admiral’s Cup, created an Admiral’s Cup trophy, and sailed in the Admiral’s Cup:

  • In the early 1980s, Corum sponsored the Champagne Mumm Admiral’s Cup. To mark this association with international yachting, Corum presented an Admiral’s Cup watch to each of the winners.
  • In 1985, the relationship was extended when they sponsored the second inshore regatta of the Admiral’s Cup—and the Corum Trophy was born. From here, it was an obvious progression for the company to run its own yacht.
  • In 1987, the Corum I yacht took part, and in 1989, Corum II followed.
  • In 1991, Corum entered three yachts in the Admiral’s Cup, with the “Corum Sailing Team” sailing under the colors of the French team. The team topped the rankings—for the first time in the history of French sailing. France won the 1991 event against seven other nations with Corum’s three boats: Saphir, Rubis and Diamant. A feat that represents one of the highlights of the historic association between the brand from La Chaux-de-Fonds and the sailing world.

The watch that precisely sails the oceans

The memories and heritage associated with each of the Admiral’s Cup watches tell a story: the story of Corum, a brand that puts the company’s heart and soul into their creations to ensure they last—not just for a lifetime, but for generations. The continuity and the longevity of its collections are not mere words at Corum: the Admiral’s Cup collection has been sailing the oceans now for 50 years. Here are three iconic watches from this collection:

  • Corum Admiral’s Cup AC-One 45 Tides

An icon among sea lovers now returns in a reworked design: the Admiral’s Cup AC-One 45 Tides watch. Twenty-one years after its launch, this model remains a truly unique complication in the fine watchmaking world. Its exclusive nature forcefully reaffirms Corum’s longstanding, solid nautical anchorage. No less than three years of development, conducted in collaboration with the Astronomic Observatory of Geneva and the SHOM (Hydrographic and Oceanographic Services of the French National Navy) based in Brest, were required to create this highly exclusive “tides movement.”

  • Admiral’s Cup AC-One 45 Squelette

A juxtaposition of the traditional and contemporary watchmaking, the Corum AC-One 45 Squelette is the latest step in the 54-year evolution of the Corum’s signature timepiece. Sitting just a hair’s breath above the date numerals are the hour markers, each filled with Super-Luminova for vivid nighttime legibility.

  • Admiral’s Cup Legend 42 Meteorite Dual Time

Issued in a 75-piece limited edition, the Admiral’s Cup Legend 42 Meteorite Dual Time exudes an aura of classically inspired elegance admirably expressed through a 42 mm-diameter case in 18K red gold. It remains loyal to the identity codes that have forged the legend of the Admiral’s Cup, and underscores its nautical origins by an inner bezel ring bearing the iconic nautical pennants extending the hour-markers. Water-resistant to 30 meters, it is fitted with a black alligator leather strap secured by an 18K red gold pin buckle engraved with the Corum logo.

Whether it’s John Masefield’s opening line to Sea Fever “I must go down to the seas again,” whether it’s the sailors who competed in the legendary Admiral’s Cup ocean race, or whether it’s Corum’s alignment with the world of sailing, they are all stating, unequivocally, their passion for the sea and for the sailing life.

Now, when you go down to the seas again, your time is measured precisely when you wear Corum’s signature timepiece: the Admiral’s Cup.