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Maiden Challenges Misogyny in the Sailing World

Maiden Challenges Misogyny in the Sailing World

Written by Sarah W.

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Alex Holmes’ triumphant sailing documentary Maiden does not concern itself with outcomes, only the path leading up to it. The first all-female competitors to enter a boat into the Whitbread Around the World race, Tracy Edwards’ crew is more concerned with creating their own odds than beating them.  The Whitbread is not an easy race; it’s 33,000 nautical miles in total, and dominated by all-male crews who treat the race as a boys club. Until the crew of Maiden, the only chance to make it onto a Whitbread boat as a woman was as a cook onboard.

And that’s what Tracy Edwards did her first time. Completing the race as the only woman on her boat, she then set out for bigger things: skippering her own boat. With little experience, but a realization that the only way to sail outside of the boys club was to start her own, Edwards bought an older, dilapidated boat to repair herself. With little experience sailing, only a bottomless sense of ambition, Edwards began to gather a crew of the best women sailors in Britain. Few wanted to fund an all-female team in one of the most dangerous and prestigious sailing races, so most of her endeavor is self-funded. 

It all begins to fall in place when the crew sets sail. After a few bumps in the road (broken wrists, emergency funding from a world leader, and the firing of a crew member), Maiden set sail as an oddity, mocked by press hoping they would fail. The footage from this sail comes from the ship’s cook, Jo Gooding, a childhood friend of Tracy Edwards. With little sailing experience, she volunteered to document the trip, not knowing what her footage would eventually be used for. Her footage is surprisingly beautiful, a rich, saturated portrait, not of failure, but of ambition. Clips from the race show the Maiden crew working as a team to develop their own tactics, and even save a member of another boat’s crew as Edwards doubles as both skipper and navigator. 

Outside perspective shows how misogynistic the sailing world of the time really is. Talking head interviews with journalists who tore the team apart in their articles show how times have changed, but not completely. Despite winning two legs of the race, and coming in second overall, the most talked about part of their trip is a photo of the crew in matching swimsuits sailing into port. After falling behind after their two first place finishes, the Maiden crew had donned matching swimsuits in order to detract from the criticism they would receive. Their plan worked, and as Tracy Edwards remarks in an interview, became their legacy to non-sailing fans in a typical turn of misogyny.

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Although it has gotten better for women in the sailing world, things haven’t changed entirely. I’ve competed in many races myself where I was the only woman onboard, and relegated to smaller tasks after being told I “probably wasn’t strong enough for most of it”. I once sailed with an older woman who had become a nautical photographer because it was the only way she could get onto a race boat. She now plans to start her own all-women race crew. The crew of Maiden was, however, what gave her the idea, and what has opened up doors for so many women in the sailing world.

The documentary never shows us what happened after, because this is about a first; we can figure out the later entries for ourselves. I was able to Skype with Tracy Edwards, and talk to many of the other members of the Maiden crew after the screening. They all still sail, and continue to inspire others to do so. The boat is now used to educate girls around the world, bought back with help from the daughter of the man who funded their project the first time. The film closes by repeating a quote from the beginning; “The ocean is always trying to kill you”, yet the enemy is not the ocean itself, but the lack of ambition to take it on.

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