Interesting what an incident that played out in 1989 tells us about ourselves in 2019.
“Maiden” documents the story of Tracy Edwards, who in her mid-20’s skippered the first all-woman crew in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989-1990.
Today’s headlines celebrate the talents of amazing athletes like Megan Rapinoe while pointing out the discrepancy in female and male soccer players’ paychecks. Edwards, who had worked as a cook on charter boats, couldn’t find a team for the race that would allow a woman to be a member of the crew.
Now called The Ocean Race, and previously titled by sponsors that have included Volvo and Whitbread Brewery, the competition occurs every three years and involves yachts circumnavigating the globe on water. The race takes approximately nine months.
During the 1989 race there were five ports of call. The race started in Southampton, England and proceeded to Punta del Este, Uruguay, a distance of 5938 nautical miles. Then from Punta del Este to Fremantle, Australia (7260 nautical miles); Fremantle to Auckland, New Zealand (3272 nautical miles); Auckland back to Punta del Este including passage through Antarctic waters and around the treacherous Cape Horn 6255 (nautical miles); from Punta del Este to Fort Lauderdale (5475 nautical miles); and the final leg back to Southampton (3818 nautical miles).
There’s an overall winner but because of the size of the boats each class, based on size, has it’s own division champions for each leg.
Each team consists of a handful of personal whose talents include sailing, medicine, math, cooking and perhaps most importantly a videographer. It’s the grainy low-resolution on-board footage mixed with contemporary high definition interviews decades after the fact that give “Maiden” such an intoxicating atmosphere.
Edwards faced an uphill battle against a toxic male environment that prohibited female participation in the tournament. It’s not like the sailors of the various competing boats are gay, they just don’t believe women can work equally with them. To Edwards’ credit she finds funding for her craft, aptly christened Maiden, and crew, notable from King Hussein of Jordan.
As a documentary the film occasionally negates from the facts. For instance some legs of the race are covered more fully than others. Nobody expected team Edwards to complete the first leg much less win two of the legs of the month’s long journey.
One crew member breaks her wrist during training and the tension between Edwards and her crew ratchets up to confrontation levels more than once. Watching the documentary you can easily imagine a fictionalized version of the affair with actresses like Judi Dench and Emily Watson playing the older versions of the characters, and with younger versions being portrayed by the likes of Keira Knightley and Lily James. On one hand it’s a quintessential British drama but on the other hand there’s a whale of a tale driven by personal ambition and altruistic fidelity to self improvement.
Some of the movies talking heads include male journalists who at the time wrote damning praise of the Maiden and its crew.
Sailing across freezing waters poses a special series of problems. One of the other boats in Maiden’s class has two men swept overboard. Miraculously the yacht circles around and retrieves them. Since that boat didn’t have a medical technician the doctor on Maiden ends up giving crucial instructions via radio.
Crews are only allowed limited clothing in their baggage so when Maiden sails into Fort Lauderdale the women change into bikinis. While the resultant press coverage covers the obvious glorious reception they receive at their only American port of call it’s a harbinger of what’s to come.
Films as diverse as “Dunkirk” and “Pirate Radio” have a rousing third act supplemented by massive arrays of boats sailing into port. “Maiden” is not different.
When Edwards and crew finish the race and cruise into Southampton they find themselves surrounded by a battery of boats with even more supporters on shore. They are not there because Maiden won (they didn’t) but because of the devotion to the ideal created by Edwards.
If you like movies with inspirational endings “Maiden” will be your cup of tea. Last year it was the Mr. Rogers documentary that had audiences raptured – this year it will be “Maiden.”
“Maiden” opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.
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