The ocean is always trying to kill you.
There’s no better example of the patriarchy poisoning the word “feminism” than a woman explaining that she rejects the word before than saying she fights for a world where women can accomplish everything a man can instead … in other words: feminism. Despite what men want you to think, the word advocates for women’s rights on the basis of equality between sexes. It’s not about women gaining extra rights—men simply manipulate the conversation this way to play the victim while consciously pretending that giving women an even footing actually means providing them an advantage. So when Tracy Edwards says she hates “feminism” in archival footage after announcing she’s building an all-woman crew for the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race, you hope she’ll circle back to reclaim it.
What an unsurprising series of events too that this feminist realization would arrive thanks in part to the chauvinism of men continuing to dismiss her even after she proves them wrong. There’s nothing like seeing their arrogance and entitlement first-hand to understand just how wide the chasm was and remains today with ongoing battles for equal pay and reproductive rights. Even though Tracy and her crew sailed their yacht to the completion of the competition’s first leg checkpoint when everyone assumed they’d quit long before, the questions reporters asked dealt with stereotypical topics like boyfriends, sexuality, emotions, and how bad relationships had grown since women “never get along.” The hundreds of men also sailing were discussing tactics and sport while these trendsetters were still regarded as a sideshow.
It’s therefore only fitting that director Alex Holmes would meet Edwards through her role as an advocate for the education and empowerment of women across the globe. She happened to tell the story of how she broke the gender barrier in yachting by showing women could sail through rough waters and excel while doing it to Holmes’ daughter’s school. The young girl wouldn’t stop talking about the experience and ultimately inspired her father to call Tracy up and discuss the possibility of making a documentary about the feat. With newly shot interviews of the crew, their supporters, and some of the male journalists who admit their bias at the time (and often do little to verify they’ve evolved) alongside in-race footage shot by Joanna Gooding, Maiden was born.
Starting with Edwards’ childhood and the tragedy, rebellion, and drive that set her on a path towards leaving England and fatefully setting foot on a yacht for the first time, Holmes takes us through the nuts and bolts of Tracy’s accomplishment against all odds. There’s the love of the water, the decision to take whatever job she could to learn the sport, and the lucky acquaintances that helped put the pieces together like Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal. There’s the almost devastating hiccup of turmoil and personnel changes at the eleventh hour and the heartfelt elation of coming to port to see thousands of supporters cheering for them whether they were in the lead or dead last. It wasn’t long before their fight became much bigger than themselves.
Beyond the social and political ramifications of what their vessel setting off at the cannon blast meant, however, is also a riveting adventure pitting humanity against nature. With those awful days devoid of wind that set them back hours come roiling waves and unpredictable storms pounding into the hull to risk having someone thrown overboard into sub-zero waters. They have to combat icebergs, fatigue, weather, and much more during the nine-month race all while being unsure and inexperienced due to the refusal of any male-led teams ever giving them a shot to learn the ropes. After three-and-a-half years of preparation and uncertainty (even Edwards questioned her leadership abilities), it takes but one leg to come together as a family with absolute trust in the women by their side.
Holmes does a good job editing the archival on-board drama with present-day reminiscences to ensure we invest in the story unfolding. Just because many of the women are included to tell it doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t without its missteps or deaths. And just because they became the first all-woman team to enter the race doesn’t mean they finished it. So we do feel the suspense and awe of what transpires, holding our breath when something goes wrong and exhaling with relief when victories are achieved. How does the lack of expectations and desire to prove people wrong motivate them and how does them earning respect shift their goals and increase the pressure felt when their hope for survival morphs into a belief they can win?
That ebb and flow is what makes Maiden so captivating because we’re allowed into their headspace to see these shifts in real-time. And with Gooding’s movies to counteract the more genial public artifice caught by the media, none of the subjects can escape the hard truths they faced in the act. They also respect each other enough to never pull punches when it comes to remembering their trials and tribulations. It’s okay to admit Edwards was difficult to deal with once stress grew (she mortgaged everything to make this dream come true) and still declare she was the heart and soul of their crew. Great moments in history don’t arise without conflict because our response and perseverance is often what leads to success. This is one such moment.
 Left to Right: Tracy Edwards, Mikaela von Koskull, Michele Paret (back turned), Jo Gooding, Claire Warren, Angela Heath, Sarah Davies, Amanda Swan Neal, Dawn Riley, Sally Hunter, Jeni Mundy, Tanja Visser. Courtesy of Tracy Edwards and Sony Pictures Classics
 Left to right: Tracy Edwards, Mikaela Von Koskull. Courtesy of Tracy Edwards and Sony Pictures Classics
 Left to right: Tracy Edwards, Dawn Riley, Sally Hunter, Angela Heath, Mikaela Von Koskull, Amanda Swan Neal, Tanja Visser, Jo Gooding. Courtesy of Tracy Edwards and Sony Pictures Classics