It doesn’t get much more inspiring than the incredible story of Maiden, the first yacht crewed entirely by women to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Depicted with meticulous detail and sensitivity, the documentary “Maiden,” directed by Alex Holmes, chronicles the fight the women faced just to get onto the water. Compared with the sexism and obstacles they faced on land, the grueling challenges of the high seas were a walk in the park.
At the center of the story is Maiden’s skipper, the fierce and determined Tracy Edwards, who first dreamed of competing in the race as a crew member and found herself a pioneering woman in the sport of sailing when she decided to place an all-female team in the 1989 race.
Edwards, who struggled with problems at home, skipped out of her small town in Wales as a teenager in favor of tending bar in Greece. She made her way onto a yacht as a stewardess, crossing the globe, learning to sail and watching her aspirations come into focus, aided by a friendly charter guest, King Hussein of Jordan.
Edwards begged her way onto a yacht in a Whitbread race as a cook, though she would have preferred to be on deck. In 1986, she came up with the grand plan to captain her own ship, with a crew of women (or “girls,” as they’re constantly referred to). The news media treated her like a joke; macho male skippers never took her seriously. But she scraped together the money and assembled an international crew of accomplished female sailors. When the boats took off from Southampton for Uruguay in 1989, the reporters took bets on how far they’d make it. None guessed they’d complete the first leg of the race.
“Maiden” is a grand adventure the likes of which we don’t see too often anymore. The film is primarily about the women battling a patriarchal sport culture and bloodthirsty media to prove themselves as equals in the intense and dangerous endeavor. It’s also a fantastic education in the world of yacht-racing itself, a sport that requires tremendous skill, bravery and a bit of madness. As a young woman, Edwards has all that in spades, though her intensity in archival footage contrasts with her good-natured warmth in present-day interviews.
Holmes, who also directed “Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story,” seems drawn to tales about the kind of dogged determination that drives people to achieve their greatest, most unbelievable goals, thought impossible by everyone else. In the case of “Maiden,” it’s to triumphant, world-changing ends, rather than the depths of hubris in which the Armstrong story ended.
But Holmes never shies away from addressing the dark parts of dream-chasing, with Edwards finding herself at odds with her own crew and her own demons while pushing Maiden as far as it could go. One has to embrace despair and doubt while chasing the incredibly high highs that come from victory and achievement, just going out and doing the thing that people have said you can’t do again and again and again.
With stunning archival footage and interviews with the amazing Maiden crew, Holmes captures that high in this stirring documentary that recounts not just the feminist achievement, but also triumph of the human spirit.