There’s a moment late in Maiden that beautifully sums up the all-female crew’s story. It happens deep into the journey as the ship prepares for a return to port. Amidst the bustling ladies, the camera zooms in close as one woman pulls out a razor and starts shaving her legs.
For so long, Maiden’s crew existed in a bubble. Their only concern being their shared mission; not the doubters, mansplainers, and naysayers who told them they shouldn’t compete. At sea, the only people judging these ladies were their teammates. But each time they returned to shore, that bubble burst, forcing them to face the jackles.
Maiden, by director Alex Holmes, tells the story of an all-woman yacht crew who thrived in that bubble. And they blew it up until it encapsulated all their doubters. By competing and succeeding in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race (opensea sailing competition), they defied expectations in an all-male sport. The ladies made their doubters swallow their words and briefly became rock stars. Holmes’ feel-good documentary recounts an inspiring story about how one determined woman looked adversity in the face and sneered.
Tracy Edwards endured a tough childhood. Edwards’ mother remarried after her father died. Her father’s love and encouragement were replaced with an abusive lout of a step-father. Edwards became rebellious, often skipping school and always looking for ways to escape her troubled life. It’s no surprise that she fell in love with the world of yachting.
Does any sport appeal to wanderlust more than sailing? Opensea yachting competitions go on for months at a time and take competitors all around the world. They’re the perfect form of escape. There was one snag, though. Competitive yacht racing wasn’t open to female competitors at the time. But Edwards wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she hustled her way onboard a ship as a cook. It’s during her time as a cook that she learned the ins and outs of yacht racing.
The competitive yachting bug bit Edwards, and it bit her hard. She knew she had discovered her life’s passion. Edwards set her mind on joining a racing team as someone other than a cook, but nobody would take a chance on a young woman. So, Edwards showed the world a thing or two by commissioning her own ship, the eponymous Maiden, and assembling an all-female crew who didn’t just compete, they kicked ass.
The first line of the movie tells us, “The ocean wants to kill you.” Holmes wastes no time making us understand the sport’s life and death stakes. We see 20-foot waves toss the ship around like a rubber ducky in a washing machine. You’re at once awestruck and terrified by the ocean’s unrelenting ferocity. Unlike most sports, in opensea sailing competitions, life can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Even though this film takes place 30-years ago, you always feel the threat of danger looming over Maiden’s crew.
Maiden is a talking-heads doc that is full of interviews, news clips, and old video footage of the ship’s crew. The beauty of the film is how much of the voyage’s footage Holmes utilizes. You feel like you’re onboard with the team through each leg of the race. The only problem is that the super grainy video looks terrible when blown up on a giant movie screen.
Along with the old clips, there are plenty of interviews with original crewmembers as well as the journalists who covered the race. They walk us through the story and provide context for what’s going on as the film takes you through each leg of the race. Even if you don’t know a lick about yacht-racing, the film gets you up to speed and does a solid job explaining why this story matters.
Having Maiden’s crew talk us through the big race is the best part of the film. They’re mostly great storytellers who even after thirty-years, deliver the details with great passion, and they’re impossible not to root for. You may find yourself misty-eyed as the storytellers start getting choked up.
There’s one area where Maiden drops the ball, and that’s explaining the crew’s success. I’m talking about the nitty-gritty details you usually get in a sports movie. Maiden’s crew were massive underdogs who managed to hold their own. I never got a sense of why they worked so well as a team. Even the crew was surprised the first time they won a leg of the race. I want details about what made this team better than the men they competed against. How did this crew capture lightning in a bottle? Was it a cunning skipper, the crew’s experience, or catching strong winds at the right time?
Maiden is a feel-good documentary about turning dreams into reality. I’ve never followed opensea sailing competitions, and I suspect I never will, but Maiden’s themes are universal. It’s a classic underdog story championing a woman who was too stubborn to take no for an answer. Alex Holmes’ inspiring film offers one more example of how a dream only seems impossible until someone comes along and makes it a reality.