Maiden: One of 2019 Best Documentaries–First All Female Sail Crew

In 1989, the first all-woman crew sailed in the Whitbread Round the World Race, a rough year-long journey of some 32,000 nautical miles, from Southampton, England, to Uruguay to Australia and New Zealand and back.

An original and timely documentary about a significant historica event, Maiden takes its title from the women’s boat, led by Tracy Edwards.

Serving as the narrator is most appropriate as the tale is very much Edwards’ own journey, both mental and physical; the race ran for 33,000 miles and included treacherous seas, weather and technical difficulties.

It’s a story that reminds women in the Me Too generation not only how far our culture has changed, but also the distance–and obstacles–that they have yet to go.

Director Alex Holmes, who had previously made the equally impressive docu, Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story, relies on rich archival footage and visual images to convey the protagonist’s  amazing story.  He and his gifted editor, Katie Bryer, have assembled terrific material that makes up for a dazzling portrait of one young woman and he team.

We learn of a troubled childhood due to an abusive, alcoholic stepfather, and strong resolve not to be defeated by it or other obstacles.

She goes to Greece, where she bond with a group of women like her–described as “misfits and gypsies”–eventually getting employed as a cook on charter sailboats.

When she applied for work on a crew bound for the Whitbread, she was told that “girls are for when you get into port.” Undeterred, Edwards vowed to create a crew on her own and set out to find financing.

Edwards was bright enough to know that “Money tends to follow men,” and set out to find an unusual and unexpected financial backer, who turns out to be King Hussein of Jordan. Most of the women are as resilient and fearless as she is–“you have to be strong because “the ocean is always trying to kill you.” 

In the process, they fight not only human obstacles (discrimination, hostility, and condescension), but also forces of Mother Nature (ice, snow, icebergs), which change 9and get worse) as they move along.

There are, of course gender biases–this is after all 1989 and the rigidly conservative Bush regime. Discrimination comes in all forms, and even men of the media mockingly refer to the Maiden as “a tin full of tarts.”

But despite the length and arduous sail, Edwards and the women look back at their unprecedented adventure with terror, joy, and pride.