Before there was Maiden, there was Tracy Edwards. She was a rebellious teenager living in Great Britain.
Expelled from school at the age of 15, Tracy’s mother suggested she go backpacking for a year in Europe. Instead, Tracy ended up in Greece waiting tables before being hired as a cook for a charter boat.
Perusing the boat’s library one day, Tracy happened upon a book about a boating race. The Whitbread Round the World Race was the challenge she had been waiting for. The competition involves sailing around the world on an ocean yacht for nine long months. Renamed the Volvo Ocean Race, it’s held every three years and is considered one of the most arduous events in team sailing competition.
Released over the summer of 2019, Maiden is a documentary film focusing on the epic adventure of Tracy and her all-female crew. The boat’s name is fitting for so many reasons, especially because the crew had to endure extreme skepticism by a very macho sports press.
Needing to secure a sponsorship to pay for the Maiden’s voyage, Tracy tried to solicit the help of 300 British corporations who all turned her down. This forced her to rethink her plans but she eventually found support from King Hussein of Jordan and the Royal Jordanian Airlines.
Up next, the challenge of finding a suitable boat. Tracy found the Prestige, a well-used 58-foot aluminum-hulled racing yacht that had won 4th place in a previous Whitbread race.
She mortgaged her home and bought the moldering boat, which the girls stripped down and rebuilt. Doing all the work themselves, the crew learned every inch of the boat.
Remember this was a time when women were rarely seen in a shipyard, letting alone working in one. Renamed Maiden, the boat and crew were ready!
The first leg of the 33,018-mile race began from Southampton, England to Punta del Este, Uruguay, measuring a distance of 5938 miles. Maiden came in third in their class, a fine finish for a first-time crew. Of course, Tracy was not happy with the result but the excited crowd that greeted them washed away some of the sting.
The second leg would be the longest segment at 7,260 miles from Uruguay to Fremantle, Australia. Then onward from Fremantle to Auckland, N.Z. This was a distance of 3,272 miles leading to the fourth leg of the trip, which covered Auckland and back to Punta del Este. The ship traveled 6,255 miles to get to the next destination from Punta del Este to Ft. Lauderdale, U.S., traveling 5,475 miles. The final leg would return the Maiden to Southampton after 3,818 miles.
Watching the movie Maiden, I was struck many things. Although grainy and jumpy from the low quality of videography of the time, it was exciting to see the ship sailing through high seas among icebergs with snow collecting on the decks. Icy seas crashed over the bow as the hull sped through the rough water. When the crew heard over the radio that a fellow boat lost a man overboard in the frigid waters, they realize the extreme danger of the sport.
However, beyond the footage, many things irked me. The press and male competitors had harsh words for Tracy and the crew. Some said, “We don’t expect them to do anything but fail.” Others said, “Sailing is a man’s sport – you have to be strong.” Of course, it must have hurt to hear how most thought the women wouldn’t make it and they were nothing more than a distraction from the “real sailors.”
With each leg of the race, the crew were asked petty questions about frivolous details and never anything about the actual sailing skills or tactics. In dated footage of journalist Bob Fisher, he calls Tracy and crew “a tin full of tarts.”
What’s really upsetting to me, when I reflect on this entire journey, is how women are still forced to endure these double standards today. I respect Tracy and her capable crew for their conviction, determination and grace. They never belittled their competitors and stayed positive and focused on one thing – winning!
Perhaps even more inspiring than the win was watching some of the scenes in the movie unfold as the crew struggled through adverse conditions.
In one scene, water fills the hull from an undiscovered source and the women have to work together to solve the crisis, calmly and efficiently. A once inverted and socially awkward woman, Tracy became a proud feminist and role model for other women.
When the crew of this 58’ yacht arrived back in Southampton at the conclusion of the race, the crowd of boats escorting her back to port swelled to over 600 people. As the crowds cheered their effort and victory on May 28th, 1990 at 11:00 AM, the Maiden sailed into history as the first all-female crew to circumnavigate the world.
HRH Princess Haya Bint al Hussein of Jordan meets with Tracy Edwards MBE in Jordan, to discuss memories of HM King Hussein of Jordan
The crew finished second overall in their class, bettering the best result for a British boat since 1977. Tracy’s acceptance of the Yachtsman of the Year trophy at the conclusion of the race was a proud moment for women everywhere. The Maiden movie captures the best that can happen when we pursue dreams and realize personal growth, friendship, and success.
“With faith, honor, and courage, nothing is impossible.” Tracy Edwards