When sailor Tracy Edwards contacted her old crew to make the documentary “Maiden” about competing in their race around the world, she told them to be honest about just how much of a “pain in the ass” she was as skipper.
She knew this film and their story could be inspiring for a future generation of female athletes and leaders, and it would be doing a disservice to those women to airbrush her own personality.
“Young girls have so much pressure on them these days. They have to be Photoshopped for their Instagram photos. They have to be better than men to get the jobs they want. There’s all this pressure put on them,” Edwards told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman Wednesday night. “If we don’t tell the truth about how messy this project was and how difficult it was and how we’re not all perfect human beings, that’s more for them to live up to. So I wanted to tell the warts-and-all, very honest story.”
Edwards is the subject of the documentary “Maiden” about the first all-female team to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989. Both Edwards and director Alex Holmes spoke in a Q&A following a screening of “Maiden” on Wednesday at the Landmark Theatres in Los Angeles, and they used the opportunity to reflect on the sexism she faced in proving she was both an athlete and a leader who could compete with and beat the boys.
Time and again the film shows Edwards being met dismissively by journalists and rival racers who felt she and her crew had no business being in the race. Journalists wondered not just if women could actually endure the marathon, round the world race through dangerous conditions, but if they could even work together without being at each others’ throats.
“One of the things that got thrown at us before the start was, women don’t get on. Oh my god,” Edwards said. “Where does that come from? Is this the men’s hope and dream that we don’t get on so that one day we don’t take over the world? Sorry for all the men out there.”
Edwards and her team finished second place at the ’89-’90 Whitbread race, and she was the first woman to win Yachtsman of the Year. And in the time since, she put together a second Maiden team, broke seven world records and even put together the first mixed gender sailing team. But women’s progress in the sport stalled after they broke through, and now Edwards said that in the 20 years since she assembled the team, there have been zero mixed-gender sailing crews in the Round the World race.
When we finished Maiden, we crossed the finishing line, and in our naivete, we thought alright, that’s proof women can sail around the world. Tick! That job’s done. So now women will be allowed to do everything,” Edwards said, acknowledging that of course that wasn’t the case. “We took our eye off the ball. 30 years later, my one regret is we didn’t follow through.”
Edwards says that in Britain, sailing, along with golf, is the “last bastion of patriarchy.” The problem with the sport isn’t men specifically, it’s the long standing institutions, history and habits that say that women aren’t allowed, something that women have to slowly hack away at constantly.
“Maiden” hopefully can help make a difference in that regard. Holmes said that when he met Edwards and was determined to tell her story, he was preparing as if it would be a scripted, narrative feature. Fortunately, Edwards was so desperate to get attention and funding for her team, they volunteered to take two cameras on board with them during their race and got intimate home movie footage of the whole thing.
The problem was tracking the footage down, all of which had been scattered around the world in every city and news network where Maiden landed. Holmes spent two years finding the 100 hours of material that would be used in the film, hiring the editor on the documentary “Virunga” to piece together the story.
Watching the completed film today, Edwards said that she’s learned to feel prouder about her time on board Maiden. In the two years after the Whitbread race, Edwards says she became a “recluse” and even suffered a nervous breakdown that stilted the momentum of women’s progress in sailing. Now when fans approach Edwards on the street, her daughter chides her for acting sheepish and downplaying her accomplishment.
“We didn’t really celebrate what we had done,” Edwards said. “And that is why for me the film 30 years later is so incredible. Because this is really the first time I have stood up and said, I am so proud of what we did.”
Edwards is set to speak on Oct. 25 as part of TheWrap’s Power Women Summit taking place in Santa Monica, California. Find out more about the event here. Watch a video clip of Edwards and Holmes above.