The story of Tracy Edwards’ Maiden campaign in the 1989-90 Whitbread round the world Race still astonishes 30 years on, reports Katy Stickland
Maiden is a gripping film charting Tracy Edwards’ battle to enter the first all-female crew in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race, and their air-punching success in defying the disparaging expectations of the male-dominated yachting establishment.
The powerful and inspirational film is packed with original footage, much of it aboard the crew’s 58-foot maxi Maiden, as well as interviews with some of the original crew.
It reveals the determination of the then 26-year-old Edwards to prove herself, and the sacrifices she made in order to get Maiden to the start line in the Solent.
Having lost her father at the age of 10, Edwards was expelled from school and ran away from home, ending up in Greece where she worked on charter boats, finding the freedom she craved through sailing. She learnt about the Whitbread after browsing a friend’s bookshelf.
The next day she asked for a job as a cook on one of the boats. More than 30 years later, the response: ‘We’re not having a girl […] girls are for screwing when we get in port,’ is still shocking, as is the chauvinistic nature of the male-dominated sailing press in 1989, who started a book on how far Maiden would get – some didn’t put their chances beyond the Needles.
The fact Edwards secured a place as cook in the 1985-86 Whitbread, hating the cooking but loving the sailing ‘when allowed on deck’, is a testament to her resolve.
This was to be tested further when she announced her 1989-90 Whitbread campaign, struggling to find a sponsor until the last minute and re-mortgaging her own house to buy Maiden before her remarkable crew refitted her.
They finally crossed the start line, arriving in Uruguay third in their class, much to the disappointment of the crew, but the astonishment of the yachting press.
Edwards, who was navigator and skipper, took the decision in the second leg to take the southerly route to Australia.
They won, the first British boat to win a leg in 12 years, and yet the sailing press called it ‘a fluke’.
They went on to win the third leg to New Zealand, and finally, there was recognition. ‘The side show started moving into the main tent,’ noted yachting journalist Bob Fisher in the film, one of the Maiden crew’s early doubters.
Throughout the documentary you are struck by Edwards’ honesty and her admission that she was full of self-doubt.
She openly states she was ‘gripped by fear’, scared of losing after two successful legs.
She is also not afraid to admit her mistakes, such as the decision for Maiden’s crew to wear swimsuits for their arrival to Fort Lauderdale, a move to distract the press from their third place position in leg 5 (it was the most syndicated sports photograph of that year).
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Unbelievably, Edwards reflects that, on crossing the finish line in the Solent, she ‘felt like we had achieved nothing, but seen a glimpse of what we could do.’
The thousands of fans who turned out to welcome them home disagreed.
There was even acknowledgment from the sailing establishment, with Edwards, after emotionally acknowledging Maiden’s ‘amazing crew’, accepting the Yachtsman of the Year award – the first woman to do so: a fitting end to this uplifting film.
Maiden was released in UK cinemas on 8 March 2019.