- Courtesy Tracy Edwards, Sony Pictures
Maiden—the documentary sleeper-hit of the summer—pairs well with the U.S. soccer team's World Cup championship, not just because they both involve women, but because each is a tale of achievement. Inspirational? Gripping? Crowd-pleasing? Yes, yes, and absolutely yes! The feminist fireworks are undeniable.
In 1989, the idea of a competitive all-female sailboat crew was inconceivable to the all-male world of open-ocean yacht racing. Yachting's inner-sanctum, and much of the world press, said the crew of the Maiden would never make it to the start of the Whitbread Round the World Race, much less survive to the finish. The chorus of naysayers was loud: "They'll never find funding," said critics. "They don't have the strength or skill. They'll die at sea."
But it's not as if the sea discriminates whether it swallows men or women.
"The ocean is always trying to kill you. It never takes a break," a woman's voice warns us at Maiden's beginning. The only image accompanying the voice is that of the deep blue sea. This is not the ocean one might see from the shore: This is the crushing ocean with a Prussian blue hue that has claimed countless lives. "You're on your own," the voice tells us. "There is no hope if anything happens out there."
That voice belongs to Tracy Edwards, who, aged 26 in 1989, helmed the first-ever all-woman challenge to the Whitbread. By the time the Maiden returned to its starting point at Southampton, England, after 32,000 miles of global racing, the crew shocked the sailing world and Edwards was awarded the Yachtsman of the Year Award, the first woman to receive it. Soon thereafter, the Queen appointed Edwards a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Unlike most of her crewmates, Edward didn't grow up in a sailing family. In fact, she was a high school dropout and ran away from home at 16, finding refuge among a hard-partying tribe of boat crew vagabonds, working as a cook and stewardess. But sailing represented freedom to Edwards, so with... well, a boatload of naivete, she set her sights on experiencing the world's biggest and most challenging sailing event: the Whitbread Round the World Race, which circumnavigated the globe every three years. And through a bizarre chance meeting with no less than Jordan's King Hussein, Edwards secured a financial sponsor for her dream. Soon enough, the Maiden's sails were adorned with the colors of the Royal Jordanian Airlines.
Maiden's story of an upstart, defiant run at the Whitbread has all the elements of an epic adventure tale: 50-foot waves, life and death drama, near-mutiny, and heart-in-your-throat victory. It's all grounded in a group portrait of a group of fearless women led by the remarkable, complicated Tracy Edwards. Together, they would pioneer a sport and inspire women in all fields to prove themselves the equal, or superior, of men.
Sound familiar? Watch the highlights of the U.S. women soccer team's recent World Cup championship and it's a good bet that you'll thrill to Maiden. Or vice versa.