Written by: Victoria Alexander | August 5th, 2019
MAIDEN is a documentary about Tracy Edwards, the first woman to skipper a yacht with an all -female crew in the Whitbread Around the World Ocean Race during the 1989 sailing season.
MAIDEN is so fascinating that I have just finished watching the 2017-2018 race on the OUTDOOR network. This astonishing international race was renamed The Volvo Ocean Race. (For the next 2020-2021 race, the event will be re-christen again as The Ocean Race.)
Edwards was incredibly bold and fearless. With no backing by sponsors and apparently no income for the 3-4 years it took to assemble all the moving parts, Edwards succeeded in getting a broken-down yacht, an all-female crew and enough bravado to support and mount a venture of this scope. Competing against professional, throughly-seasoned and vetted sailors, with a refitted old yacht, and a newly-formed crew was a triumph in itself. But the race would take 8 months of sailing, with competing yachts in sight angling for the best position and the press mocking Edwards at every leg of the race.
Edward’s biggest challenge was overcoming all the negative publicity and the absurdity that she could actually enter the race. Apparently she was the first female to even want to be a member of a team entering the Whitbread. It’s just too grueling to be racing around the world, in sometimes terrifying weather, attempting to beat fast yachts. No one would take her on as a crew member, so Edwards decided to captain her own boat.
And no matter how technically advanced the yachts are, it takes a great deal of physical power to maneuver through the water at top speeds.
According to this documentary, Edwards had determination, maniacal resolve and an unswerving obsession. How could Edwards and her team match the muscular power of men? The other teams were made up of seasoned Whitbread sailors with corporate sponsors.
Apparently the Whitbread is world famous every place but in the U.S. and luckily Edwards and her crew were filmed every step of the way. The film starts at the beginning with Edwards insisting on joining a cruise boat. She is taken on as a cook. She is young, friendly and bra-free. Being the only female on a boat with all that testosterone might have made a documentary in itself.
When the King of Jordan comes aboard for a cruise, he casually encourages Edwards. She mortgages her house and buys a rundown yacht. She starts getting an all-female crew together. No one would sponsor Edwards, so she eventually contacts the King. He provides funding and his country’s name on the Maiden’s sails.
The film by Alex Holmes benefits greatly from the interviews with the original crew members – now in their 50s – as they talk about Edwards and the race.
It was not sunbathing on a yacht and Edwards was often at odds with her hand-picked crew. Just before the beginning of the race, her navigator, so essential to the race, quit. This episode is glossed over but essentially indicates that Edwards had some rough edges. Seasoned captains know how to deal with competing egos and the difficulties of being in such confined quarters for months while facing unpredictable obstacles. Edwards had no experience as a leader.
This was, and still is, a dangerous race. During the Maiden’s race, two men on another boat were blown off deck and one of them was killed. During the 2017-2018 race, one man was knocked off his boat by a furious wind. His team heroically tried but could not find his body.
It is not important that the Maiden did not win the Whitbread. Edwards and her crew changed sailing around the world races forever.
In September, 2017, the U.K.’s Sunday Times had an article on the Volvo Ocean Race. It began:”Round-the-world yacht racing has long been dominated by men but an attempt to bring more women on board has unexpectedly sprung a leak. Dee Caffari, skipper of the first equally mixed-gender crew in the Volvo Ocean Race, formerly known as the Whitbread Round the World Race, has revealed that some teams tried to exploit new rules to sign up women on the cheap. Caffari,, 44, who was also the first woman to sail solo non-stop around the world in both directions, said: “Some of the old-school sailors maybe underestimated that it is meant to be equal.” The 2017 teams were given incentives to employ women.
Unfortunately, Edwards story ends here. You will want to know what happened after the Whitbread.
Edwards sailing career ended abruptly during the 1998 Jules Verne Trophy race, a prize for the fastest circumnavigation of the world with no stopping and no outside assistance.
In an interview with Edwards, in part, she explains what followed the Whitbread: “Within seven years, I would lose everything. My vision was to create a race circuit for big multi-hull boats. It was suggested that I go to Qatar, which was trying to set itself up as a global sports capital. In 2003, I signed a £6m sponsorship deal with Qatar Sports International, one of the crown prince’s companies, and also managed to get HSBC involved. It was to be the first part of a £38m sailing programme, paying boats to enter races, creating big regattas with big prize funds and having our own governing body. I had suppliers, teams and wages to pay, so I borrowed £8m from the bank on the strength of the agreement I believed I had with the Qataris and used my house and boat as collateral for the other £2m. The event in 2005, the Oryx Quest, was a great success, but I’d paid for everything with the bank loan and QSI wouldn’t give me the money they had promised. They disputed whether they owed me any money, or whether there was a contract. Then, before I had the chance to sue, they dissolved the company. I was in trouble. In September 2005, on my 43rd birthday, I was declared bankrupt.
After 25 years in the sport I was left with nothing. My confidence was battered. You realise who your friends are at times like that. The crown prince has paid the bank so I now have a smaller debt, but it is still a debt. I had to pick myself up because I’m a single mum with a daughter to look after. I now do motivational talks, which I love. The experience has made me realise that it’s how you deal with failure that dictates who you are.”
It’s not all bad news about Tracy Edwards. She was awarded an MBE and became the first woman to be voted ‘Yachtsman of the Year’ by the Yachting Journalists’ Association. After retiring from sailing following the birth in 1999 of her daughter, Mackenna, Edwards began organising sailing projects. Beset by financial problems, she was declared bankrupt in 2005. She is now a motivational speaker and has a winning documentary, to boot.