Tracy Edwards spent her early 20s in a literal sea of men. Theres “230 blokes on this race having the time of their lives, and four gals,” Edwards remembered thinking as she sailed in the 1985–1986 Whitbread Round the World Race, a competition in which crews of variously sized boats circumnavigate the globe.
Though she had accumulated about 250,000 ocean miles sailing charter boats in her late teens—after leaving school in Wales and falling in with hippie sailors in Greece—the young Brit had faced resistance when she asked to join a Whitbread crew as a cook. The skipper, Edwards recalled, had responded by saying that it was “absolutely not happening. Girls are for shagging when we get into port.” She got the job, but only after going directly to the boats owner.
By the end of that first race, Edwards had one question: “how do I change this so I dont have to fit in?” Thus began her journey toward captaining an all-female crew aboard a sailboat named Maiden in the famously difficult 1989–1990 Whitbread, a 32,000 nautical mile race from England to Uruguay to Australia to New Zealand and back, with a stop in America. Maiden, the eponymous documentary by Alex Holmes, out Friday, chronicles an intense 167 days at sea, wrought in 80s pastels, frothy blue seas, and a whole lot of silver trophies. The crew of 14 women went on to win two legs of the race in its division, and Edwards became the first woman in Whitbread history to be named Yachtsman of the Year.
Like most great sports films, Maiden requires a kind of emotional athleticism from its audience, cresting with hope and crashing into heartbreak at top speed. Blink and you may miss important clarifying details. How did a high school dropout turned backpacking nomad become close personal friends with King Hussein of Jordan? How did these women, some of whom didnt have much sailing experience at all, go on to sweep up the competition?
Some of the answers to these questions live in personal stories left on the cutting room floor. Even so, Edwards still thinks that “the film spends too much time in the early bit of my life, which I think is uninteresting.” But it is precisely these early bits that provide a clearer picture of how Edwards came to be a pioneer.
It was Edwardss mother—a globe-trotting ballerina and burlesque dancer whose career-ending diagnosis of multiple sclerosis inspired a return to her first love of motorbikes—who served as a role model for her daughter. She also supported Edwards after she was expelled from school, and encouraged her to travel to Greece, where a family friend resided. Trouble with Edwardss stepfather had made home a painful place. Greece was a realm of freedom and possibility. She took odd jobs on boats. She faced intense sexism from some men, but many others acted as mentors, showing her the ropes, so to speak.
Edwardss most profound mentorship came from King Hussein, who helped secure Maidens sole sponsorship when no one else would take the chance. Their relationship could fill another documentary. Edwards had had no idea who King Hussein was when he boarded a vessel she was working on in Marthas Vineyard, but they instantly connected. “Everything he did in Jordan was visionary. Women had the vote. They drove cars. They went to university. They wore business suits. There was a church alongside a mosque,” she said. “I remember having dinner with him one night, and turning on the television the next morning and he was with Bill Clinton at the White House talking about the peace process. I was like, I know that guy!”
Edwards and King Hussein shared a passion for navigation and communication. “He would speak to people all over the world on his ham radio,” she says. On the day Edwards returned from a transatlantic race, her mother said, “Some guy keeps calling, saying hes King Hussein of Jordan; he wants you to have dinner with him.” That night, clad in an old boat T-shirt and safety pin-fastened trousers, Edwards hopped in her Vauxhall Viva banger, which was green with two red doors, neither of which opened, and drove to Kensington Gardens. “I drove up to this stunningly beautiful building with Jordanian guards standing outside with guns,” she recalls. “I winded down the car window, climbed out, and said, Im here to see King Hussein, and they were like, Absolutely, madam.”
“When Im looking for a team,” she remembered the king telling her, “I make sure that theyre all more intelligent and have more experience than me.” His advice put Edwards at ease. “I knew I wasnt a great sailor. I had been wondering, How am I going to do this project that Ive told everyone Im going to do?” she says. “So every one of the girls knew more than I did. All I did was put them together and try to guide them. And then my mum was trying to guide me. She said I was like a missile, and she was the guidance system.” At King Husseins memorial service, Edwards met other people whom the king had supported, including the first woman to jump out of a hot-air balloon on the edge of space. King Hussein “taught me you dont have to be the best,” said Edwards. “You have to believe in people, trust people, and, if you truly love human beings, which I do, and understand them, then thats the way you lead.”
The documentary leaves much of this out in favor of exhilarating scenes: the fight to get funding, the fight to restore the boat, the fight to save the boat— and crew—when a hole opens in their hull. By its denouement viewers witness a literal sea change: the doubters are left eating crow, while throngs of young girls who have been following the Maiden crews voyage welcome the women home. The film ends on the highest possible note, but theres an unseen epilogue.
The years that followed the 89 Whitbread were difficult for Edwards. “I wanted to keep the legacy going, but I was suddenly on my own,” she said. “I did have my mum. But when I got married and divorced very quickly, the press became intrusive, climbing in my mums back garden while she was ill.” It was a dark period during which she felt that she had gotten in her own way. “It was my own stupid fault; everyone else was getting on with their lives, and thats exactly what I should have done,” she said. “I did get to the point where I fell over big time.”
Edwards, now 56, said that five years ago, she would have never talked about these struggles. But now the world seems to be changing. “I love this part of social media, where I see people saying, If you cant do it on your own, ask for help. Theres people there. And [how were] educating people about depression…Now we can all talk about it,” she explained. Edwards is nothing if not committed to creating visibility—about what women are capable of, about mental health, about whats possible when you put together the right team. And even though the aftermath of the race didnt make it into the documentary, perhaps well see it someday in a feature film about Edwardss life.
Four years ago director Alex Holmes approached Edwards about making a documentary after a talk she gave at his daughters elementary school. Edwards had also just discovered that Maiden, which she had given up years prior, had been dumped in the Seychelles. Her long-lost vessel and a filmmaker intent on telling its story both appeared just as she was coming out of a low point. “They [began] looking for money to make the documentary while I was looking for money to buy the boat,” said Edwards. “When I bought the boat, they found the money to make the documentary. Then they spent the next two years looking for the footage and making the documentary, while I spent the next two years restoring Maiden.”
To the directors delight, archival footage of the 1989 race existed: Whitbread organizers had asked for volunteers to film themselves during the race. Edwards jumped at the opportunity, recallinRead More – Source