“Maiden” tells a mighty tale about the majesty of the human spirit and the power of women, and it’s all true.
A potent documentary about 1989’s first all-women crew to compete in yachting’s grueling Whitbread Round The World Race, at 32,000-plus miles the longest contest on Earth, “Maiden” (also the name of the yacht) reveals an extraordinary saga of grit and daring in the face of doubt, fear and life-threatening situations.
“The ocean is always trying to kill you,” Maiden’s British skipper, Tracy Edwards, says, setting the film’s compelling tone right from the start. “It never takes a break.”
What makes “Maiden” truly special are the present-day interviews conducted with the skipper and the members of her 12-woman crew.
Also heard from are the now- chagrined male members of the yachting establishment and the press who were downright hostile to the notion of an all-female crew on a race this arduous and challenging.
“They said we weren’t strong enough, not skilled enough, girls don’t get on, you’ll die,” Edwards says. “It wasn’t a choice; it was something I had to do.”
Edwards faced obstacles throughout her young life. Her father died young and her mother disastrously remarried; she was suspended from school in Wales 26 times before she was expelled and ran away from home.
Working in seaport bars led Edwards to the yachting world, where she felt a kinship with the “dropouts, misfits, gypsies and nomads” who crewed on boats.
Edwards managed to get a berth as a cook on the fourth running of the Whitbread (now known as the Volvo Ocean Race), a multistage endeavor held every three years that lasts eight to nine months.
Upset at being treated like a servant and unhappy that of the 230 total crew on all the Whitbread competitors only four were women, Edwards determined to enter 1989’s fifth Whitbread “as a proper sailor” and with an all-woman crew. The hiring of the crew, many of whom had thought they were the only woman obsessed with yachting, is one of the highlights of “Maiden.”
Everything about Edwards’ quest proved to be beyond daunting, starting with the years she spent pursuing corporate sponsors to getting a boat, with Edwards finally mortgaging her house to buy one secondhand.
Every step of the way, Edwards and her crew were met with the kind of primitive sexism that included one journalist calling Maiden “a tin full of tarts.” “People were scathing,” one crew member says, “and they got nastier as we got further.”
Edwards, 26 when the race began, confesses to self-destructive insecurities, doubts and fears that led to conflicts with crew members.
All of this pre-race drama was nothing compared with the contest itself. “Maiden” gives full weight to each of the Whitbread’s six legs and the unexpected dramatic elements every one of them contained, from horrific weather conditions to boat mishaps and more.