(2018) Documentary (Sony Classics) Tracy Edwards, Jo Gooding, Bruno Dubois, Barry Pickthall, Skip Novak, Bob Fisher, Howard Gibbons, Sally Hunter, Nancy Harris, Jeni Mundy, Claire Warren, Dawn Riley, Angela Heath, Marie-Claude Heys, Tanja Nisser. Directed by Alex Holmes
We like to characterize women as the fairer sex, but there’s always the underlying “the weaker sex” that goes unspoken except in actions which are, of course, much louder than words. Over the last century or so women have been struggling to prove that myth wrong and have done so, sometimes in triumphant fashion.
Sailing has always been a man’s world. There was the unadulterated bull excrement that it was bad luck to have a woman on board sailing vessels, as if vaginas somehow brought on the wrath of the gods. For longer endurance races, however, there was always the need for physical strength and endurance, something that admittedly men possess in greater amounts.
Tracy Edwards grew up in England a rebellious teen who was devoted to her father who sadly passed away at a young age. When her mum remarried, she found her stepdad to be a loathsome individual so she left and took on odd jobs from flight attendant to bartender, eventually working on the crew of yachts for hire. There she fell in love with sailing.
When she heard about the Whitbread Endurance Race, the longest of its time, she was eager to be part of it. However, the nearest she could get was to be a cook on one of the entrants. She was treated as a second class citizen and felt that she wasn’t contributing as much as she would have liked to. She realized early on that the only way to run the race as an on-deck crew member would be to captain her own boat, something that had never been done before. And since few male crew members would work for a woman, she would need to hire herself an all=female crew.
She was met with a great deal of skepticism if not outright hostility. It’s expensive to enter a vessel in the Whitbread and finding sponsors was a heck of a mountain to climb. Most were at best apathetic; others treated the idea as a joke. There were some sympathetic to her plan but quite frankly they were concerned about the publicity that would be incurred if the ship sank during the race and they went down with all hands – a distinct possibility particularly in the rough and treacherous Antarctic seas. Nobody could believe that she could actually do it.
By random chance, she met King Hussein of Jordan who grew to believe in her. He arranged for Jordanian Air to sponsor her and through that she was able to buy and refurbish a second-hand boat which was re-christened the Maiden Great Britain (get the aural pun?) and entered the vessel in the race. Journalists were skeptical with one, Bob Fisher, going so far to call the entry a “tin can full of tarts.” Nevertheless, she entered the 1989-90 Whitbread and journalists eagerly and with more than a little snarky glee took bests on how far they’d get. The rest would be history.
You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of any of this. I confess I didn’t even know about the Whitbread (which is now called the Volvo Race after their current sponsor) and knew even less about Edwards. All this occurred 30 years ago and frankly I don’t really follow sailing at all. This isn’t a situation unique to me and an obstacle director Alex Holmes has to overcome.
He does the best thing possible to overcome it – he tells the story simply and lets the power of the narrative and the character of the participants draw the viewer in. Utilizing a lot of interviews with the participants in the race, their rivals aboard other boats and the journalists who covered the race as well as home movies and archival coverage, Holmes weaves the story nicely. The sequences in the Southern Ocean are particularly harrowing as we watch the tiny boat navigate rough seas that would put the North Atlantic to shame.
Edwards loathed the term “feminist” although her deeds mark her as a feminist to the core. The movie does lack a bit of context; what sort of effects did the Maiden voyage (see what I did there?) have on the world of yacht racing and on women in sports in general? Have there been any other all-female crews since? I can’t answer that but I can imagine that plenty of young girls who watch this movie may end up inspired enough to put together a team of their own.
REASONS TO SEE: A gripping story told well. The cinematography is spectacular as is the score. Edwards and her crew make for engaging subjects. Brings to light a little-known historic event.
REASONS TO AVOID: Really doesn’t delve into how the voyage of the Maiden changed things and the effect it has had on how women are regarded.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity. Mature situations and some sexually suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: All is Lost
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The House (2019)