The extraordinary story of the French Viant family, whose name is engraved with salty letters in the history of the first three Whitbread races, has taken a new turn as the ‘clan’ charters Gauloises III (1981-82) to enter the Legends regatta in November this year.
The family will race again, joining once more with some of their former teammates from Grand Louis (1973-74), Japy Hermes (1977-78) and Kriter IX (1981-82), highlighting the pioneering history of French offshore racing.
André Viant was the patriarch of the Viant family. He was an outstanding sailor, a highly respected French yachtsman in England - he was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron - and was also one of the first presidents of the largest racing yacht club in France, UNCL (the national union for the offshore racing).
Back in 1973, André Viant chose young members of his family and those from several families of very close friends living nearby on the Gulf of Morbihan in France to compete on his own boat, Grand Louis, in the first Whitbread Round the World Race.
Among the 16 rotating crew were Jean-Michel Viant (Jimmy), André’s son, Sylvie Viant, André’s daughter, who became an indispensable race director of any self-respecting race in France, Bruno Lunven, a former competitor of the historic Course de l’Aurore (previously the Figaro Race), Philippe Facque, the promoter of the ORMA multihull circuit, Patrice Carpentier, the well-known sailing journalist, and Patrick Eliès, the terror of the Figaro circuit in the 1980s.
Excited by their first experience of a race around the world, the young generation of the Viant clan raced again in a second Whitbread (1977-78), this time with a project initiated by three students from a business school. Jimmy Viant would skipper Japy-Hermès and he sailed with his fiancée Bénédicte Lunven who would become the first Frenchwoman to compete in a round the world race.
For the Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta, taking place in Alicante in November this year, Gauloises III’s crew will consist mainly of the Japy-Hermes original line up.
Bénédicte Lunven who co-ordinates the Gauloises III project, explains: “For the second Whitbread, the Japy-Hermes crew was more a story of young people. We were all between 24 and 27 years old. Jimmy, our young skipper had lots to do as, to begin with, most of the crew had very little sailing experience. In addition, we had a heavy and rolling boat; but, after thousands of miles we learned how to trim her and even enjoy the thrill of surfing downwind with geysers of water reaching to the spreaders.
“The crew stayed in contact and, even though we live very far apart now, we decided to gather together again to compete in the Legends Regatta.
“Grand-Louis, Japy-Hermès and Kriter IX were not available, so we had to look for a boat for us all to sail,” explains Jimmy Viant. “We eventually chose Gauloises III, which has been based in the Mediterranean for many years. It is ironic really as Bénédicte and I raced against her in the Whitbread 1981-82, when we were sailing on Kriter IX. It is therefore a small nod to history to be sailing on a boat against which we first raced 30 years ago!”
The Volvo Ocean Race Legends from 1 – 5 November this year will celebrate the long and varied history of the world’s premier ocean race and includes racing and social events in for all those who have competed or been involved in the event since its inauguration in 1973. It promises to be an occasion not to be missed, with many former sailors travelling from all over the world to take part.
About Grand Louis (1973-74)
Designer: Dominique Presles
LOA: 60’ (18.28m)
Skipper: Andrée Viant
Crew: 9 - 11
Overall finishing position: 3rd
Elapsed time 162.01
About Japy-Hermès (1977-78)
Designer: MacCurdy & Rhodes
LOA: 65’ (19.81m)
Skipper: Jimmy Viant
Overall finishing position: 14th
Elapsed time: 164.01.29.24
About Kriter IX (1981-82)
Designer: German Frers
LOA 62’ (18.89m)
Skipper Andre Viant (aged 60 at the time)
Overall finishing position: 3rd
Elapsed time: 134.07.37.42
About Gauloises III (1981-82)
Designer: Ron Holland
LOA 62’ (18.89m)
Skipper Eric Loizeau
Dismasted on Leg 3, 1300 miles from Auckland and retired from the race
Entries in the Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta and Reunion
- Copernicus 1973-74 (45’ sloop: the smallest boat ever to race)
- Great Britain II/Whitbread Heritage (Maxi) took part in the first five races
- Rothmans 1989-90 (Maxi)
- Berge Viking 1981-82 (Swan 57)
- Charles Jourdan 1989-90 (Maxi)
- Steinlager 2 1989-90 (Maxi Ketch)
- Gauloises III 1981-82 (62’ Sloop)
See volvooceanrace.com/news/Legends-Regatta-Information/3022 for the official Notice of Race and entry form, preliminary schedule of events and more regatta information.
About the VolvoOcean Race Legends Regatta and Reunion
- The first ever official reunion of all who have sailed in the world’s premier ocean race since the inaugural race in 1973-74
- To be held in Alicante, Spain from 1-5 November 2011, week between Alicante In-Port Race and the Start of Leg One of the Volvo Ocean Race
- A full racing schedule over two days
- Will conclude with a departure ceremony and parade of sail to escort the Volvo Ocean Race fleet to the start line for Leg One
- A rich shoreside programme includes a regatta prizegiving, a gala dinner and a host of other social events
- Chat shows and forums after racing
- Legends entries open for public viewing
- 148 boats have crossed the start line in the 37-year history of The Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race
- 1974 crew competed in the first 10 events
- The first 31,250 nautical-mile race first took place 37 years ago (as the Whitbread Round the World Race 1973-74), testing the crews against some of the most ferocious elements that man can encounter
- The Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 will be the 11th edition of the event
Lady Pippa Blake
Sir Chay Blyth CBE, BEM