Change Course: Charlie’s Daytona

Daytona hand

This story has come full circle… I first met Charlie over a year ago; he was a customer where I work. Now besides being pretty good at my job, I do a bang up job identifying the watches my customers wear – especially if they’re wearing a Rolex. When I caught a glimpse of the 9 o’clock side of Charlie’s watch, I narrowed it down to a 36mm Rolex. Maybe this would be my lucky day and he’d have on a vintage Explorer, instead of the usual Datejust…

But when I craned my neck for a closer inspection, sticking out of the 3 o’clock side was a pair of screw-down pushers. Holy Sh*t! This guy’s wearing a vintage Daytona! My mind went into overdrive. I had to talk to him… would he have time to chat?… was he even a nice guy?

That day Charlie had a few minutes to spare and he was more than nice. As soon as we sat down, he popped the clasp on his Daytona and took it off: The links were stretched out after decades of wear, so it easily slid off his wrist and over his hand. No sooner was it off his wrist, it was on mine. The bracelet was too big to fit snugly, so I could only balance the head atop my wrist. I stared through the scratched acrylic crystal at its “Panda” dial and listened to Charlie tell me the story behind it…  

Needless to say, this was the highlight of my day – my month – actually. Watch Patina wasn’t around back then, so the only way to share my experience was to post a quick-and-dirty snapshot on Instagram. Before we parted ways, I made sure to get Charlie’s contact info. A few months later I launched Watch Patina. Once I had a few stories under my belt, I gave Charlie a call.

Daytona bracelet

I wasn’t the first person to go gaga over Charlie’s Daytona. Over the past decade it’s been known to cause a stir, especially when he wears it into a Rolex boutique. But salespeople weren’t the ones who tipped him off that his daily beater for the past forty-plus years was actually an important watch. Charlie got his first whiff that his Daytona was collectible from those “How Much Is Your Watch Worth?” ads by auction houses, like Antiquorum. Their free appraisal events seemed to always use his watch – albeit the “Paul Newman” variety – as their poster child. In 1975, when Charlie bought his Daytona, the prospect that it could become extremely valuable was the furthest thing from his mind. At the time, he was more concerned with its utility…

In the early 1970s Charlie was getting accustomed to a lifestyle he boldly chose a fews years earlier. After graduating law school he abandoned ship on the legal profession, and instead, decided to take up skippering boats full-time. What may have seemed like a pipe dream to his family, turned out to be his calling – his career. But before going into business, Charlie cut his teeth logging thousands of nautical miles for pleasure, including a voyage across the Atlantic. It was gearing up for this big adventure that he came to need a trusty watch. 

He went with a Rolex partly because a law school buddy he looked up to wore one and partly because he was won over by Rolex’s advertising on the pages of yachting magazines. As for a Daytona: Its chronograph function conveyed a sense of being a higher precision piece of instrumentation. To Charlie, the brand, the price, and the model added up to the “finest timepiece.”

You may be wondering: Did Charlie consider a Submariner? Isn’t a Daytona more at home on the race track? Before you question Charlie’s judgment or chastise the Daytona for overstepping its boundaries onto the boating scene, you might want to check out Hodinkee’s “Talking Watches” episode with John Goldberger, which features an uber-rare – 39.5mm – Rolex Cosmograph “Yacht Master.”

Daytona Invoice

At the time of purchase the list price was a far cry from hammer prices realized today. But even at only a few hundred bucks, for a twenty-three-year-old like Charlie, this watch cost a lot of money. Luckily Charlie had a friend in the jewelry business that could get him a discount. Charlie didn’t have a choice between dial configuration or bezel type. After all, beggars can’t be choosers: He gladly took what he could get, which was a brand new ref. 6265 Rolex Oyster Cosmograph for $324. And yes, Charlie still has the box and papers.

Passant

Leading up to his intrepid passage across the Atlantic, Charlie and friends explored ports of call all along the European seaboard. While immersing themselves in the cultures and indulging on local cuisines, Charlie started noticing that the time on his Daytona deviated slightly against the time announced on radios. This was more than a little disappointing to Charlie. After all, he bought a Rolex, and he had every intention of using his Daytona as a tool watch – and along with a sextant – it was supposed to be part of the essential equipment he’d use to perform celestial navigation – using the sun, moon, and stars to guide him and his crew toward a distant land somewhere west.

On days when it was sunny, with minimal clouds in the sky, Charlie planned to use a sextant to help determine their longitudinal position at sea. Peering through its eyepiece, he’d observe the sun at its apex and then use his watch, set to GMT time, to note the exact time – to the minute and second – this event occurred (i.e. local noon).

The time difference between local noon, in terms of GMT time, and actual noon GMT time would be converted into a coordinate. Since Greenwich England is located at 0° longitude and the sun covers ¼ degree of longitude every minute (24 hours = 1,440 minutes. 360°/1,440 minutes = .25°/minute), if Charlie’s boat was anchored in the Atlantic and according to his watch the sun was at its highest point above the horizon at 4pm GMT, this 4 hour time difference would put their longitudinal location at 60° West.

Granted this is an oversimplified example, but you get the picture: With no GPS or radio on board, a supremely accurate watch was crucial to plotting their position on a map and tracking their westward progress. Being off by seconds, could mean being off course by miles. So, when he and his crew left the shores of the Gran Canary Islands, on his 52-foot, steel-hull yacht called the Passant, the go-to timekeeper that helped them reach Antigua safely – 24-days, 2900-miles later – was not his Daytona, but rather a backup watch – a quartz Seiko.

Daytona light

Despite “knocking” his Daytona for falling short of being the chronometer he’d hoped, it proved to be a seaworthy watch in every other respect. He still wore his Daytona on that trip across the Atlantic, and on many other sailing jaunts. It survived the salt water and countless shocks and bangs while Charlie manned vessels on rough seas – even overcoming a shattered crystal when it smacked against a binnacle. Charlie’s Daytona is as honest as they come. It’s been polished and its crystal has been replaced several times. And if you look closely, you’ll notice the tail of the chrono second hand is broken off. It was intended to be a tool watch, became an unlikely first mate, and according to Charlie, was “one of the three best decisions” of his life…

Change Course: Charlie's Daytona

It’s been a while since Charlie went country-hopping by boat; a family and other responsibilities have kept him mostly on dry land, but he’s never lost his love for sailing. Now approaching retirement, Charlie is toying with the idea of reliving his youth. He recently bought a new boat, named the Act III, and hopes to captain it from San Diego to Miami in the near future. Knowing Charlie a little bit, I think he’ll make good on this goal. When he does, I hope he wears his Daytona for old times’ sake…

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One thought on “Change Course: Charlie’s Daytona

  1. Everything that your wonderful article states is true and more. The Charlie that I have known for over 50-years is one of the most unpretentious and modest people that I know. He has class and dignity and is a faithful and dedicated friend. He has a wonderful and beautiful wife and you can always count on them for whatever you need. More people like Charlie and Sheri you have a better world. Thomas Hyman

    Like

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