I can’t tell you how many people have taken note of the Suunto Elementum Ventus sailing watch I’ve been racing with for the past few weeks. And it’s not just awe at seeing a $999 watch on the wrist of a guy whose shirt came from TJ Maxx—the Ventus is truly an eye-catching timepiece. Its purposeful look has caused more than a few fellow launch passengers to ask, “What’s that watch you’ve got there?”
Founded by Finnish engineer Tuomas Vohlonen in 1936, Suunto makes precision instruments for everything from orienteering to scuba diving. Most of the company’s sailing watches—including the Mariner, which I reviewed a few years back—have a techy look, but the Elementum Ventus packs advanced features like race timer, compass, and barometer into an elegant, stainless-steel case trimmed with three oversized buttons. The version I tested came fitted with a brown leather band, but you can choose from a variety of colors (black/grey) and materials (steel, rubber).
The buttons are the best thing about the watch. They’re large enough to manipulate with gloved fingers, and a convenient lock feature prevents you from accidentally stopping the timer in the middle of a starting sequence. Once you’ve activated the timer, engage the lock by hitting the top two buttons simultaneously; repeat to unlock. Another nice thing about the timer is its ability to sync to the nearest minute of a sequence—helpful for those instances when you’re a few seconds off on the five-minute gun and want to fine-tune at four minutes.
For all its complexities, the Elementum Ventus has a surprisingly intuitive control system. I was able to program the clock, alarm, and timer features without referencing the instruction manual, but it came in handy when calibrating the three-dimensional compass and discovering other tidbits like backlight and barometer history.
Some racers will see no need for a barometer on their sailing watch—and I’ll admit I’ve only used the feature in a gee-whiz sort of way—but the digital compass is something I’ve come to appreciate. Say I’m serving as rail meat and can’t see the boat’s instruments; aiming the top of the watch perpendicular to the rail lets me track the general tendency of the windshifts. Even better, say the race committee changes the course to the next mark to 345 degrees. Just rotate the watch until it reads 345, and you’ll know where to look for the mystery mark.
If all you’re looking for are the sailing features, Suunto’s Yachtsman ($349) or Regatta ($199) models—or any of the dozen racing watches we recently reviewed —might be your best option. But if you want a sailing watch that you can also wear with a suit, a watch you’ll want to wear every day, you might consider ponying up for the Elementum Ventus. Just be ready with answers when your neighbor points it out on the launch.