“I hate the word “feminist”; I just want to be allowed to do what I want to do.”

Tracy Edwards

 

The first thing that must be acknowledged about this documentary is that it’s not just about a boat and a lot of water, storms at sea and leaking decks. It’s about raw courage and the rising empowerment of women.

Then we can get to the elements. If, in the final half hour of “Maiden,” you have tears of joy, be prepared to shed them. In the first hour, hold your breath.

This is the story, written and directed by Alex Holmes, (producer and director, known for “Maiden” (2018), “House of Saddam” (2008) and “Dunkirk” (2004) about Tracy Edwards, her boat and the blatantly sexist male-dominated British yacht establishment.

But the brilliant light of the story falls directly on Maiden and her 12-woman crew, who unfurled her sails and set out to win the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race (now called the Volvo Ocean Race), which runs nine months and covers 34,000 nautical miles. Yes, each of those.

Holmes gives us then-and-now shots and chats with each of the 12 women, and it’s no surprise that they all come across like film stars.

But we start with Tracy, a 24-year-old girl from Wales who at an early age fell in love with rough, dark water and one day, through grit and gut, wangled a job as a cook on one of those English charter boats full of British gents in neatly pressed khaki shorts and crisp upper lips.

The film starts with a background story of a young girl from the country who lost her father as a child, was brutalized by a new father and who survived to become, at age 24, the captain and navigator, for pity’s sake, of a patched-up 58-foot yacht that Ahab’s whale would have swallowed whole.

All the newspaper articles and stories that you can download on Google were full of sexist, manly garbage such as “They’re high risk.”

A male reporter asked Tracy, “Were there any difficulties at sea? Quarrels?” “They never ask that of the men,” she replied. Another wag commented, “It’s just a tin full of tarts.” Those and other jabs were all the ladies needed to brave the waves.

They are all here on the big screen in group scenes and individual head talks, painting, hammering, scraping and praying, as though this boat were their own personal Argo, and the cup at the end of the race was their own Golden Fleece.

None of this came to its space in the great sea without tears, pain and callouses. Tracy had to remortgage her home and then, with the intervention of a famous “angel” investor, had her money. Wait until you see who that angel was.

In the most exciting documentary we’ve seen in a long time, Holmes went to the archives of the day and filled all 97 minutes of the voyage with the stories and television coverage of this incredible odyssey, filmed with three set cameras by cook Joanna Gooding.

These are no home-movie shots. Gooding’s camera is there at Tracy’s desk in the hold, up in the sails and on every pull at the ropes and wheels as water, snow, hail and the possibility of sudden death roars around them.

Writer Rachel Handler, in a touching and beautiful article in the online magazine Vulcan, writes a long piece about reconnecting with the crew after 30 years, complete with “then and now” pictures. It’s worth downloading for a final and detailed story, and the individual stories behind each member.

“Maiden” is a dazzling documentary that takes us in like a full-length Hollywood film which, I’m betting, is not far from being cast as we speak.

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.