“Maiden” is one of those sports documentaries that does not require you to be a fan of the sport to enjoy the film. Ostensibly the subject is a sailing competition called the Whitbread Round the World Race but the true topic is the tenacity of the boundary breaking all-female crew of the 58-foot aluminum ocean racing yacht Maiden.
“Maiden” begins with 24-year-old Tracy Edwards, a British woman who dreamed of being a ballet dancer but changed gears while on a backpacking trip in Greece. Taking a job as a stewardess on a yacht, she met King Hussein I of Jordan (more on that later) and fell in love with the seagoing life and the “dropouts, misfits, gypsies and nomads” who worked on the boats. In 1986 she secured a job as a yacht cook in a Whitbread race. There she discovered the gender imbalance and sexism of the competitive sailing world that would inspire her to refinance her house and, with some help from her old friend King Hussein, buy a second-hand 10-year-old yacht which she refurbished and renamed Maiden. In 1989 Edwards and her all-female crew set forth from Southampton for Uruguay and into the history books. “We were doing something we had been told we couldn’t do and we did it anyway.”
Using a combo of new interviews and contemporaneous news footage director Alex Holmes weaves together a true story of teamwork, mettle and determination. Detailed is the inherent danger—“The ocean is always trying to kill you,” Edwards says. “It never takes a break.”—and all the drama that comes with a groundbreaking effort like this. The most compelling part of the doc is the sheer grit Edwards, who would later become the first female British Yachtsman of the Year, and her crew display.
It’s not all smooth sailing, however. In the early footage Edwards is a determined, sometimes divisive character with self-destructive tendencies but the personality clashes pale compared to problems with the weather, equipment malfunctions and the death of a competitor.
“Maiden” also presents a detailed account of the dismissive sexism of the press who covered the race. Even before the Whitbread began Edwards was asked by an interviewer, “How do you get this kind of money out of business men when you are this young slip of a girl?” and summarily dismissed by yacht reporters. Nonetheless they persevered, made history and more than fulfilled Edwards’ dream of being “a proper sailor.”