Maiden (2019)

Maiden, 2019 (documentary)
Alex Holmes, director
Crew: Skipper, Tracy Edwards with crew, Mandi Swan, Mikaela Von Koskull, Claire Warren, Michele Paret, Tanja Visser, Sally Creaser, Dawn Riley, Nancy Hill, Jeni Mundy, Jo Gooding, Sarah Davies

Kimberly and Jane were not sorry they rushed out to see the documentary, Maiden before it disappeared from its short run in theaters because Maiden is as exciting as any feature to see and as inviting as any myth to seize your day. (Coming on Netflix) 

JAS: A la the alert we posted on The Wall in our last, Maiden is a ‘must-see’ documentary for anyone who has doubted the power of dreaming the impossible dream. When an all-female crew joined Tracy Edwards to enter the all-male Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989, they were taking on more than high seas.  They didn’t fit the culture’s idea of sailors capable of the challenges. Not only were they viewed as unwelcome outsiders in a man’s sport but, as women, they were ridiculed as not standing a chance.  But rejection acted as a spur to even greater courage as they faced a life-threatening journey. In the end, they not only finished the race but won two legs of the nine-month-long grueling marathon. For me, Tracy Edwards and the women with her bring to mind Megan Rapinoe and her team when she struck the stance of iconic Winged Victory.  That image sailed around the world on different waves in 2019 after the U.S. team won the 2019 FIFA World Women’s Soccer Cup. I love these kinds of brackets where the very visible present is viscerally connected to the past.   

KC: Me too. In the documentary, we see the story of Tracy Edwards, a girl whose father dies early, whose mother remarries an alcoholic, abusive man, and who is really kind of just floating through life with no professional ambitions or desires. Through her stint as a bartender, she stumbles into a group of people who work on boats for a living. She joins them on a whim and begins working on boats too. This sparks a major love of the sea in Tracy and, after serving as a cook on an all-male boat, she starts to dream about entering the Whitbread Round the World Race herself, something that was totally unheard of for a woman to do. In a stroke of strange kismet, she meets Prince Hussein of Jordan during one of her gigs and tells him of her dream and he encourages her to go for it.

JAS: And she does! She puts together an all-female crew, mortgages her house and buys an old yacht abandoned in dry dock. She and her crew first work as a team to rebuild the boat from bolt to paint and completely fix it up! From the beginning, they’re against extreme odds that they will even be ready for the race much less make it round the world. As they continue to show up at promotional events to raise money for the race, the men don’t take them seriously. At the time, a Guardian newsman headlines them as a Tin Full of Tarts, implying they’re nothing more. Yet every time somebody asks Tracy about what she is doing, she restates her vision, I just want to do something I love and I don’t understand why anyone should be able to stop me.

KC: And when it comes down to the wire, she ends up contacting Prince Hussein who finds her a sponsor for her venture. Big dreams take big guts to accomplish and look where hers lead her!

JAS: In fact, this documentary is so well done reality takes on the page-turning feeling of fiction.  Footage taken aboard the yacht gives you both an immediate and immersive feel.  Maiden’s journey is lifted to the level of myth, as compelling as Odysseus taking on the high seas in ancient times of the Greeks. In fact, there were numerous mythological references for me. First, and obviously, the yacht name Maiden refers to a time in a woman’s life when she holds the blossoming potential of a woman engaging a transformational voyage. It can be at any age, of course. And Maiden sails into new territory when she makes a woman’s breakthrough a world breakthrough. Maiden voyage stands for all women who ever want to do anything they are told they can’t do. At one point, the women hoisted a flag with the image of a female riding a tiger that carried the feeling of the Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali, both signifying the power to step out of human time and break with convention.  

KC:  The goddess Durga is about transformation and major shifts. When Tracy started this adventure, she knew what she was up against but she did it anyway. The most beautiful thing about these women, and how they worked together, is that they ALL experienced incredible transformations along the way. Tracy transformed from a woman with a healthy respect for the sea, saying it was something that was constantly trying to kill you, to a capable captain and skipper whose aptitude at navigation really pulled them through moments of danger.

JAS: You hit upon something that really came through for me watching these women working together aboard a small ship midst the ocean. Goddesses like Durga and Kali symbolize natural forces beyond human control.   Durga especially represents that interaction between mere human beings and the ineffable where warrior skills, blood sacrifices, and grit are natural aspects of thriving on earth – or, in this case, the seas of the earth.  As if serving a higher feminine deity of wild and calm, the crew trusted Tracy’s leadership and turned female bonding into a fortress of safety. 

KC: It does beg a question.  What gave these “learning as we go” females an edge to win a leg over the more experienced, physically stronger men?

JAS:  If I stick to mythology for the moment, we could say an alignment with Durga and Kali provided a steady guide through the blue skies, the black night, shining stars and red-tongued radar signals to keep them on course. Perhaps a woman’s intuition gives even novice women an edge on experienced male sailors when it comes to celestial navigating (that’s what it was called before electronic navigation took over and turned skipper into technician).  When the Maiden won the leg down under around Cape Horn, a sea renowned for its treachery, I couldn’t help but wonder. Did the all-female crew draw upon extraterrestrial insight and a communal strength from being bound, one to another and to a love of nature to prevail in spite of their novice standing and against all odds from land and sea. 

KC:  Celestial navigation?  I think I use navigation by intuition when I’m out hiking a mountain without markers and can sense a path to the top.

JAS: Intuition is an incredible feminine quality especially in times of crisis. We see champions rely on it when the going gets tough. There’s a risk-taking involved that has to do with confidence in resilience.  Announcers talk about them finding another gear or digging deep.  Another female attribute, exclusive to women, I thought about was birthing.  You can’t just quit in the middle of giving birth.  When one of the women, queried about how she kept going, said simply ‘there was no choice’. That will give any woman who’s given birth a laugh. 

KC: For sure.  Even when their boat got damaged at sea and they all had to pitch in to figure out what went wrong and then repair the boat together, it seemed their ability to face the repair under threat of capsizing drew on more than their bolt by seam knowledge of the boat.  They felt an innate connection to seeing it through together. These women were all in, start to finish.  

JAS:  Interesting, not as much about winning as finishing and now with their story projected on the big screen, they’re “finishing” again.  And to an even larger welcoming audience than the boats that met them in the race. Their documentation with live camera footage – no small feat in 1989 – means that we – we women of 2019, forty years later – are the lucky recipients of the feeling being aboard the Maiden in real-time.

KC: True. And in a very light-hearted moment in the film, we see all the women don their bathing suits when to counter their disappointment about losing a leg of the race after winning one. They counter their disappointment with their own femininity, in fact saying, we are women and we are here, regardless of if we win or lose. We know how to play the game.

JAS: It was also amazing to watch the newsmen’s attitudes change over the course of the film. They went from tolerating the women and not taking them very seriously to expressing respect and pride. In fact, at the end of the race, the throngs of crowds showing up are not showing up to congratulate the winners, they are all showing up to welcome the Maiden crew home because their journey has become a collective one, and a true maiden voyage in that respect.

KC: Even Tracy, who denounced the idea of calling herself a feminist, says at the end, that she became one from the experience. The personal became universal.

JAS: I found myself really loving the way I felt when I walked out of the theater. It was exhilarating to watch these women, each compelled by an internal drive that women are not generally acknowledged for having. I recalled my own life and body in my twenties and how proud I felt that I had once been there too. I loved watching these women wield the strength and drive to follow their desire through to the end. I felt nostalgic and glad that I had been there too, once, with all of that going for me.

KC: When Tracy talked about, “the land disappeared and then it was just you,” I cried. Because it hit some primal chord in me, some form of remembrance that we come in and out of the world alone, so why not do exactly what it is we most want to do. We women are amazing and never underestimate a maiden’s ability!

1 thought on “Maiden (2019)”

  1. Great post. I’ll look for it on Netflix. It sounds like a film every teenage girl should see. Well done article. Sharon

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