In the late 1980s, a young ship’s cook named Tracey Edwards had had enough. Sick of sailing’s impenetrable boys club, where women were barely tolerated on board – let alone in control on deck – she made an extraordinary decision. Edwards bought a boat, put together a team, and announced that she would be heading up the first all-female team to compete in the Whitbread Round The World Race.
Consisting mostly of experienced sailors, the crew of the aptly named Maiden smashed all expectations during the 1989-1990 season of the highly competitive race. Bets were made against the Maiden even making it through the first leg, let alone the more technical ones to come, while sports journalists made disparaging comments and bombarded the women with the expected inappropriate questions, covering cat-fights to boyfriends. But, undeterred, the women sailed on, and though outright victory eluded them, there was still much to be celebrated by the time the Maiden arrived at her final destination.
The crew and their voyage aboard the Maiden is the subject of the recent documentary of the same name, from director Alex Holmes. In Maiden, the crew take centre stage (as well they should), telling their own story as a series of talking heads, all cut through with footage taken on board during the race. A few competitors and sports journalists get their say too, but with Edwards and her crew leading the narration, an already a compelling story of sporting triumph, the focus on the individual women is what really elevates Maiden.
With a crew consisting mostly of experienced sailors, a genuine passion for the sport underpins many of the interviews, but its when the women allow their emotions to rise to the surface that Maiden is at its most powerful. Filmed without pre-interviews, the content is raw and authentic, and with a good portion of the dismissive attitude to the crew centered around a woman’s inability to control her emotions, it’s really quite empowering to see them comfortable enough to let go a little on camera. This is especially true of Edwards, who seemingly faced the biggest struggles both during and after the event, and who seemed quite taken aback when she can’t control the tears.
In a wonderful full circle moment, it feels appropriate that it’s Jo Gooding, the ship’s cook and Edwards’ oldest friend, who best sums up the spirit of the Maiden, when she says: “We were doing something we were told we couldn’t do. And we were doing it anyway,”
Things do get a little uncomfortable when the camera focuses on the once-detractors of the Maiden. Naturally, no one stands behind their original dismissal of the crew, but having two male journalists chuckle about their put-downs (Bob Fisher’s a “tin full of tarts” sticks in the mind), and jokingly call each other out over who was worse feels out of place. One hopes this was intended as an eye roll moment, another check against the sailing elite, but it feels more like a misplaced moment of brevity.
But overall, there’s a wonderful elegance to what Holmes has done here, harnessing a simple storytelling device that puts the Maiden firmly back into the hands of the women who helmed her. Breathing life into the names behind the event, Maiden hands agency to the crew, where it truly belongs, resulting in a moving and uplifting glimpse of sporting history.
FOUR AND HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Maiden is out now in select cinemas, and is also available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on-demand.
For more info, visit distributor Dogwoof.