TAG Heuer Sponsors FlyingNikka, the Cutting-Edge Racing Yacht

With its sponsorship of FlyingNikka, TAG Heuer revisits its historic yachting credentials

Watches & Jewellery 12 Jun 2024

The TAG Heuer-sponsored racing yacht, FlyingNikka

The TAG Heuer-sponsored racing yacht, FlyingNikka

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Or is it one of the fastest racing yachts ever to touch the water?

The answer is the latter – FlyingNikka is a technical tour de force of the seas that is capable of more than 40 knots (that’s around 46mph) and gets her name from the fact that she “flies” above the surface on a set of high-tech, rotating foils.

The 19-metre boat, which combines an ultra-light carbon fibre hull with a composite, three-dimensional “wing” sail, is set to thrill onlookers this summer in locations including St Tropez and the Tuscan coast, where she will race in the livery of Swiss sports watchmaker TAG Heuer.

While the brand is arguably best known for its links with motorsport (it sponsors the Oracle Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team, Porsche Formula E, the Monaco Historic and modern Grand Prix races, the Porsche Carrera Cup and Mexico’s legendary Carrera Panamericana road race), it also claims a long history in yachting. As far back as the mid-1940s it produced a tide-times watch called the Solunar on behalf of US sporting goods maker Abercrombie & Fitch, later adapting the design to its own, Heuer-branded Seafarer and Mareographe chronographs.

The relationship with Abercrombie & Fitch also led to Heuer (renamed TAG Heuer in 1985) becoming the official timing partner of the America’s Cup boat Intrepid, the 12-metre US yacht that successfully defended the trophy for the New York Yacht Club in 1967.

The TAG Heuer-sponsored racing yacht, FlyingNikka

Heuer provided Intrepid’s crew with a set of hand-held yachting stopwatches and Aquastar wristwatches featuring an ingenious regatta countdown timer – and celebrated the boat’s win the following year with the launch of the Skipper sailing chronograph.

TAG Heuer revived the design last year with a 21st-century Skipper, paving the way for a return to the world of yachting that is now fully on-stream with the recent announcement of its sponsorship of FlyingNikka. The boat, which is owned, skippered and helmed by the Italian pharma tycoon Roberto Lacorte, is an evolution of the AC75 racing yachts developed for the 2021 America’s Cup, which were also designed to skim across the surface of the water in order to dramatically increase speed by reducing drag.

‘While FlyingNikka was inspired by the AC75 design, she is actually quite a lot more advanced,’ says Lacorte. ‘The bow is designed to offer better “takeoff”, and we have used rotating foils rather than the flaps used on the America’s Cup boats. They are easier to manage and adjust and are more suitable for sailing in open water where conditions can be a lot rougher than on the flat waters that the AC75s are intended for.’

The TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph with rubber strap, £2,800
The TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph with rubber strap, £2,800

Lacorte, who also races cars in the high-level IMSA SportsCar Championship, previously owned and skippered a racing yacht called SuperNikka, with which he won the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in 2017 – inspiring him to commission FlyingNikka in 2020. One of only two similar foilers in existence (the other being the 111-foot Raven launched last year by Baltic Yachts), she requires a crew of six to sail – and costs an eyewatering four million euros per season to run.

‘I wanted a flying boat because I’m very interested in the technology required to make them work,’ explains Lacorte. ‘Although we have so far achieved a top speed of 42 knots, the main aim is not necessarily to reach ultra-high speeds but to make a boat that will sail easily at around 35 knots and get there far more quickly than any of her competitors.’ To help achieve that, FlyingNikka is fitted with electronic control systems that both enable the boat to maintain balance and allow her crew to quickly make the continuous adjustments that ensure she is running at optimum performance.

The 40mm TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional Solargraph with a plain steel strap
The 40mm TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional Solargraph with a plain steel strap

Lacorte says he has longstanding links with TAG Heuer, and that the brand saw its own ideals reflected in the commitment to innovation and precision engineering – hence its decision to back FlyingNikka. She can next be seen “flying” across the water at the Loro Piana Giraglia off St Tropez on 8 June, following the 151 Miglia – Cetilar Trophy at the start of the month. Her crew will be equipped with TAG Heuer’s Aquaracer Solargraph watches.

Designed for the great outdoors, the three-hand watch features a robust and sailing- friendly, salt-resistant titanium case housing TAG Heuer’s Citizen-based TH50-00 solar-powered quartz movement – that will run for six months after absorbing light for just 20 hours. With a dial and hands treated with Super-LumiNova, the Aquaracer Solargraph also has the ability to glow in the dark more brightly than the average sports watch and is, of course, water resistant down to 200 metres.

But that’s a feature that FlyingNikka’s crew probably won’t want to test…

The 40mm TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional Solargraph in titanium or blackened steel, £2,800, in plain steel, £2,050; tagheuer.com