A taut, gripping documentary about one young woman’s dream, “Maiden” takes us on a journey we won’t soon forget: around the world on a 58-foot yacht, in the company of its historic all-female crew.
It was 1989, and no all-woman crew had ever competed in the storied Whitbread Round the World Race, a nine-month and 32,000-mile journey through potentially treacherous seas. But Tracy Edwards, then a troubled but determined 26-year-old who saw sailing as “freedom, leaving everything behind,” nonetheless spent every penny she had to buy the battered monohull she christened Maiden. Assembling a crew of free spirits, she refurbished the boat, raised money and set sail from Southhampton on Sept. 2, to the amusement of male commentators who referred to the Maiden as “a tinful of tarts.”
Made up of amateur footage captured during the voyage, interspersed with present-day interviews with Edwards and crew members, “Maiden” is wonderfully suspenseful — especially if you, like me, have no idea how the race turned out. The film lets us ponder the endless horizon of mesmerizing, malevolent-looking waves; feel the blast of snow on the decks during frigid days of ice; and see the miracle of blue skies and land after dark weeks at sea. (Asked what she would do during her time in port, one crew member announced her plans to “get drunk and eat a bacon sandwich.”)
And it reminds us of the baggage that comes with being the first, particularly the patronizing media coverage (as the boat set sail, an announcer identified them as “the girls of Maiden, trying their best”). We see young Edwards, pre-voyage, saying “I hate the word ‘feminist’ ”; she learned, in those long days at sea, to embrace the term.
Now retired from sailing but still promoting female empowerment through her Maiden Factor Foundation (which raises funds for girls’ education), Edwards gets emotional when looking back at the journey. Maiden’s crew were, she said, doing something they were told they couldn’t do; that one dream became an inspiration, for girls everywhere.
★★★½ “Maiden,” a documentary directed by Alex Holmes. 93 minutes. Rated PG for language, thematic elements, some suggestive content and brief smoking images. Opens July 19 at the Meridian.