In 1989, one 24-year-old and her 12-woman crew changed the perception of women in sport and life at sea. The Whitbread Round the World Race proved for the first time that women can do just as much as men, when Tracy Edwards’ racing yacht, Maiden, crossed the finish line, a place where only all-male sailing heroes had been before. Coming to cinemas on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2019, Maiden feels like a fitting tribute to the resilience that inspired the world.
Film-maker Alex Holmes tells this story in an invigorating documentary that traces the journey that reframed the narrative – from Edwards’ childhood, through her fraught relationship with authority and her family, to the first spark of her need for adventure as a young woman, all the way to the triumphant finale. Edwards risked everything: she remortgaged her home, bought a second-hand boat, and never gave up on what she was born to do.
The film blends archival footage with interviews with Edwards and her former crew members, as well as the men who never believed in them. Journalists and fellow competitors were somewhat chauvinistic (and vocal about it) at the time, with an ingrained confidence about what the status quo should be, on the simple basis that no one had ever challenged it. There wasn’t a sense of violence, or that women were explicitly forbidden to race, it was simply embedded condescension that limited women to secondary roles, seldom taken seriously. In interviews during the race, men would be asked about tactics, but the women on Maiden were quizzed on their emotional politics.
“This is more than a biopic. The indomitable drive of one woman extends far beyond the result of the race”
The story of Maiden remains engaging, even if you’re not an avid sailor. As Edwards remembers the obstacles of her adventure, the story of her personal mission (which began with her attempts to fit in with the all-male crew when she joined as a cook on charter boats) gives way to a wider sense of what her ambition allowed women across the board to accomplish. She spent countless sleepless nights ensuring that her crew was safe, and that their mission would succeed on a practical level, but her challenges feel relatable through an unshakeable emotional commitment. The cross-cutting format of the film gives the audience an understanding of history from the images of the race, while the present-day interviews convey the universal values that can inspire viewers of all ages.
At first, Edwards didn’t call herself a feminist – her dream, which she knew she would achieve, no matter what, was to win the race. However, it’s this very determination and the no-compromise integrity of her crew that set an example for the entire world, watching their every move. What began as a look out of curiosity turned into a loyal campaign to give these women the support they deserve. The achievements of Maiden made waves in terms of the expectations women are afforded in a world steered by men – and the tides are still turning for the film, too, as Maiden screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
This is more than a biopic. The indomitable drive of one woman kicked the adventure into action, but the effects on women, and on men – finally challenging a limited understanding of the strength of the female sex – extends far beyond the result of the race. Thirty years ago, the goal might have been to win, but today, thanks to Maiden, the game itself is still changing.
Maiden is out 8 March.