'Witness history being made'
In the 1989 Whitbread round-the-world yacht race, Skip Novak, who looks a little like Ron Burgundy, was asked time and again how a bunch of men could be expected to get along on such a lengthy voyage. Later, when his boat fell out of first place, he and the rest of the crew donned bathing suits to distract the press, who originally had believed they wouldn’t even finish the first leg of the race.
OK, none of that is true. But it’s exactly what happened to Tracy Edwards, 27-year-old captain of the yacht Maiden, after she fielded the first all-female crew in the history of the competition. One journalist — the film doesn’t name him but I will; it was Bob Fisher of The Guardian — dubbed them “a tin full of tarts.”
Director Alex Holmes works with a wealth of archival footage – the notion of an “all-girl” crew was great human-interest fodder at the time – and also interviews Edwards and her shipmates today to reconstruct the voyage. A rebellious teenager, Edwards ran away from her home in Britain and got a job on a yacht in Greece. Thus developed a love of sailing, and a fortuitous encounter with Jordan’s King Hussein, who helped fund her Whitbread entry.
Still, it wasn’t an easy journey. Edwards bought a second-hand yacht that looked like it had been to Gilligan’s Island and back. On an early race, her best friend and ship’s cook Jo Gooding broke her wrist. Edwards fired her first mate for not packing the first-aid kit, then had to beg others to stay on.
In 1989, the Whitbread, since renamed the Volvo Ocean Race, was a punishing six-leg marathon covering 32,000 nautical miles, or about 60,000 kms. The winner that year finished in 128 days, with the last boat limping into Southampton almost two months later. Two craft didn’t finish at all. One of the other British entries had two men swept overboard; one of them died.
Honestly, you could probably pick just about any contender from any year the race was held and create a rousing story about their perseverance. Edwards’ tale has the added frisson of being the ultimate underdog narrative, as this “gorgeous young slip of a girl” (this from a female journalist at the time) dared to try to beat the all-male competitors at their own game.
If you don’t know who won – my own yacht-race historical knowledge is a bit shaky – you can watch Maiden with a real-time sense of will-they-do-it? But regardless of the outcome, you’ll witness history being made.