‘Maiden’: How an all-women sailing team fought sexism and made history

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Interview below was conducted earlier this year. We are posting as new to congratulate the film on being awarded Best Documentary by the National Board of Review for 2019.

Tracy Edwards, who stars in the documentary “Maiden,” and film critic Pamela Powell. Edwards led the first all-female sailing team in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989.

“Maiden” (2019) is the harrowing true tale of how Skipper Tracy Edwards pushed against the acceptable gender tides of racing in 1989–1990 and then changed the boat racing world and women’s education to today. The film was the darling of prestigious film festivals around the world such as Toronto International and Sundance and will be released across the nation on July 12. 

“Maiden” was created by documentary filmmaker Alex Holmes who happened to attend a speaking engagement at his daughter’s school where Edwards was the presenter. Her words and her experience inspired Holmes to tell Maiden’s story so that perhaps his daughter could live in a more gender equal world.

I had a chance to not only host a Q&A after a screening of the film recently in Chicago to which Edwards received two standing ovations, but to then also sit down and talk with this oceanic trailblazer one on one. Discussing the film and how this experience has led to creating The Maiden Factor were integral to the conversation.

PAMELA POWELL: The quote “The ocean is always trying to kill you is repeated throughout the film. Why did you feel the need to do this race?

TRACY EDWARDS: I think, the ’85–’86 race on the boat with seventeen men, why? Why? Why? Why would I want to do that again? (Laughter) I wanted to do the race as a navigator because navigation is my passion and I knew there was not a male crew in existence that would ever let me on board as a navigator. I thought this is the way the world looks and if I can’t fit into it, I’ve got to change it. So how do I change my world?

I suddenly saw a project, the first all-female crew, as a project that would kill a lot of birds with one stone: I got to be a navigator, it would prove that women could sail around the world, [and] we could prove that we could be competitive.

I felt really as we went through the race … that it was bigger than Maiden. It was bigger than me proving to do things. It was actually about anyone standing up for themselves and saying, “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do. I can do that.” Maiden really evolved and the more we were told we couldn’t do it, the more we felt we had to do it. My mum often said to me, “What do you think would happen if everyone said, ‘oh that’s a good idea, off you go.'”

Photo credit: Sony Classics

POWELL: With any film, documentary, or one based on truth, honesty can be lost, but not in “Maiden.” Your and all who were interviewed were brutally honest which isn’t easy to do or to hear. Can you tell me about deciding to be so truthful?

EDWARDS: We did discuss it … I was … reticent because this is not just about me. This is Maiden’s legacy and we are all responsible for Maiden’s legacy. And this is my team as well. So the jungle drums started rumbling and we all got on the phone. And we Skyped and we called … They all thought it was a great idea. … and after twenty-five years, you tend to tell the truth to people. And did they ever! (Laughter)

Alex [Holmes] is an incredibly talented documentary maker, not just because he found all that footage and put it together, but because of the way he interviews you. He’s very clever and before you know it, you are rabbiting on, your brain is saying “Shut up, shut up,” and your mouth is saying, “No, no, I’m on a roll.” And then when you do stop, he doesn’t say anything and with me, that’s a killer because I hate silence. He figured this out really quickly. So if I ever stopped talking, he’d just look at me and I’d go, “Oh, and I remember another thing.” He absolutely killed it.

POWELL: Besides crossing that finish line, what was your biggest accomplishment?

EDWARDS: Getting to the starting line … because when we were at the start line, we had fought the biggest battle to get there. All the other boats had just waltzed on to a boat, got their crew gear and like, “Okay, let’s go off around the world.” (More laughter)

POWELL: Your mother was quite an inspiration to you. How do you hope you have inspired your daughter?

EDWARDS: The greatest gift my mum ever gave to me was to tell me not to be a bystander in my own life, and that piece of advice is just the best. Every single human being is good at at least one thing; we just have to find what that one thing is. Those two [pieces] of advice I hope I have passed on to my daughter, but she doesn’t need my advice, she’s perfect. I wasn’t. I needed lots of advice. 

POWELL: Tell me about your current endeavors.

EDWARDS: Maiden has come full circle. We wanted to raise money for charity and empower and inspire girls and women. That’s … what Maiden did for us. Now she’s restored, she’s sailing around the world in a tour to raise funds and awareness for girls education. In a way … it’s a way for me to say, sorry for throwing away a free education which my country gives me, hands it to me on a silver plate, and at the age of fifteen, I said, “Oh, no. I don’t need an education.” There are a 130 million girls around the world—and this is a very low estimate—who would do anything to have an education. …

She left in November last year and she’s about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii and she’ll be in Vancouver and Seattle in August. And then she’ll be doing the tour of the states as well. I know you’re in the middle! (Laughs) You can go to a coast and see her.

Don’t miss an opportunity to see a film that is as captivating as “The Perfect Storm” (2000) and as inspirational as “RBG” (2018). “Maiden” opens in theaters in the Chicago area on July 12.

To learn more about how you can be a part of Maiden’s current voyage, go to https://www.themaidenfactor.org.

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