'Maiden' tells the exhilarating story of the first all-female crew to sail in the Whitbread Around the World Yacht Race.
The Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race is a grueling, nine-month long race to sail around the world. It’s a perilous trek for bearded manly-men through rough waters and stormy weather. It’s no place for a woman, right?. Well, not so fast. Director Alex Holmes’ Maiden is the story of Tracy Edwards, the first woman to skipper an all-female crew in the race.
Named after the boat that Edwards and her crew sailed, Maiden combines interviews with the skipper and her crew with archival photos and footage to tell how a bunch of brave ladies faced the odds, stared them down, and not only survived, but thrived. Holmes starts with Edwards’ story, going through her somewhat troubled childhood, her introduction to sailing (as a cook, no less), and the acquisition of the yacht, but most of the movie’s running time is spent on the race itself. As it should be.
Maiden is quite an underdog story. From the start, the deck was stacked against them. Edwards had been told time and again that no one wanted a girl on their boat, so, taking it as a challenge, she knew what she had to do. Once the determined captain pieced together her crew, she had trouble finding sponsorship – no one wanted to take a chance on a boat full of women. Even when they got funding, they had to refurbish a ten-year old boat that many thought was too small for the race. And once they started sailing, the press looked for any male-centric angle they could find to cover them – “who’s her boyfriend,” or “are they lesbians?”
At least, that’s how it started. Edwards and the crew of Maiden were able to silence the naysayers and critics in the best way possible – they won two of the early legs of the race. The “hopeless women” proved that they could keep up with the men and, therefore, became the biggest story of the race. Soon enough, they also became the fan favorites, and it was a role that the ladies enthusiastically embraced, even as they made fun of it (in a move that some of the women regret now, the crew donned sexy bathing suits at the end of one of the legs, and the resulting picture was the most syndicated sports photo of the year).
Since the race in which the boat Maiden sailed took place in 1989, most of the archival footage in the film Maiden is grainy, shaky, and, well, looks like it was shot in the middle of the ocean. There were fixed cameras aboard the boat, but the real fun shots come courtesy of Edwards’ childhood friend Joanna Gooding, who was on the expedition serving as both cook and videographer. Director Alex Holmes uses this at-sea footage to great effect, juxtaposing the high definition interview footage with the lo-fi race shots to add an air of authenticity to the production. There’s a “you are there” feeling to Maiden that’s nothing short of exhilarating.
Maiden stands in awe of what Edwards and her crew were able to accomplish, but it also captures the chauvinistic 1989 attitude of the public. Sure, the people got behind the Maiden ladies, rooting and cheering as they pulled into every port, and those feelings are very triumphant, but Holmes also tosses in news coverage that still shows that there was a feeling of condescension, sort of like a “look what these cute little girls accomplished.” The achievement is celebrated, but the celebration seems to be pandering to the fact that the crew was made up of women instead of the fact that they were capable sailors. And that’s a little disheartening.
But the other crews in the race were completely in awe. When other, smaller crafts started escorting the racers to the finish line, one interviewee who was part of an all-male crew made the observation that “they were not there for us.” The public wanted a glimpse of the legendary ladies who sailed around the world. Another interviewee makes the claim that the reason Maiden won the legs that they won was because they had “quite simply the best crew, male or female.”
In the end, Tracy Edwards did not win the race. Maiden the yacht came in second in its class, eighteenth overall. But Maiden the movie is more than just a chronicle of a runner-up. It’s an inspiring tale of determination and courage in the face of unimaginable opposition. And really, whether Edwards and the gals won or not doesn’t matter. It’s a terrific story either way.