In 1989-90 Tracy Edwards led an all-women crew in an around-the-world sailing race called the Whitbread. The boat was called Maiden, and that is also the name of a new documentary about the crew and the race. The film is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week. In an interview, Edwards and the film’s director, Alex Holmes, talked about tracking down the treasure trove of footage taken by one of the women on the boat and why Edwards changed her mind about calling herself a feminist.
NELL MINOW: I was surprised to see so much terrific footage taken on the boat during the race. Who was filming?
TRACY EDWARDS: The 85-86 race had hardly anyone filming or photographing at all. For the 89-90 race, the Whitbread Race Committee decided that they would like some boats to take some cameras which they provided for us. They asked for volunteers and most of the big boats said, “We are far too serious and manly to take cameras on the boat,” but we stuck our hands up and went, “Yes, we will.” And then we realized that we didn’t want to take an extra person as a cameraperson. So we all looked at Jo Gooding, and she said, “Yes, I would love to do the camera work,” so we dispatched her to the BBC where she spent four days learning how to use a camera. And she ended up taking this extraordinary footage.
She doesn’t film interviews, she filmed what was going on in the boat and life and people doing things. And I think that the reason we are all caught unaware on the footage is we used to shout at her filming us, so she used to find devious ways to film us without us knowing. But she loved it, and she did most of the filming.
ALEX HOLMES: It was very interesting to contrast the footage that we got from one or two of the other boats that did have a camera on board that was shot by the men in the race. And all of their footage was kind of very stilted and it would be little stand-up interviews, people reporting their positions and how they were and what the weather was doing. And very short kind of clips really nothing about what the mood or the atmosphere on the boat was, all of it putting a very brave face. But what Jo had was this emotional sensibility, just this emotional intelligence and as I am sure having seeing the film you can tell, she is a very sensitive individual, sensitive to the other people on the boat, and that came through in the way she used the camera. So from a filmmaking point of view it’s an absolute gift.
MINOW: Alex, tell me about tracking down the footage. I understand that it wasn’t all in one place.
HOLMES: That’s an understatement. It really was scattered to the four winds. I mean I have to say at first I didn’t know that there was footage, but when I heard Tracy tell the story, the film that I was imagining in my head was a dramatic film, a narrative feature. And it was only after talking a couple of times with Tracy, I could tell that she was slightly puzzled as to why I was talking about writing scripts and doing all of that and casting.
She said, “Well, we did have cameras on board the whole way around” and that raised the possibility of making a documentary. Which was absolutely wonderful from my perspective because documentaries are my first love, and I thought that was the perfect fit for this story. The task was finding the footage.
What tended to have happened was as they reach the end of each leg, they would offload the tape to the local news pool, or the local TV station would take the bits that they wanted and then it was kind of passed around a little bit, and you know what happens with material — it just kind of disappears.
And so we had to really go around looking at all sort of archives all over the word. Fortunately, we had a good lead which was Tracy’s mom Pat had done a very steadfast job of trying to record as much as the news coverage as she could on VHS. So at least we had some clues as to what footage might be out there, and that started off our detective journey really to track it down.
MINOW: What was the technology back then and how do you translate that into today’s film?
HOLMES: It was on S-VHS, in fact, which was a very short-lived format with a side loading camera, which was not insubstantial. Jo is not the tallest of women and the camera on her looked quite big, so it was a feat to weild it in the conditions that they were filming in as well so that also impressed me. And then of course what had happened was it had been copied, you know the material that we did find it was copied multiple times.
But after a while I started to fall in love with the look of the footage, not just what it captured but the way it looked was something about it that put me back in that time when I was just graduating college, when Tracy was doing the race and it put me right back in that era, the quality of that footage really evokes the time, almost as much as the hairstyle and the clothing.
MINOW: I was amazed by some of the archival footage that you found from the news programs. The sexism was just so blatant and shocking.
HOLMES: You are absolutely right and it was a genuine shock to me, because you know when you go and revisit something that has happened more or less in your adult life then you think you know that era, but when you have it really held up to you and you see just how prevalent that casual sexism was, that assumption that the women would find it challenging beyond their ability.
And they weren’t regarded as a legitimate entry really, just a sideshow. That was deeply shocking to me. I hadn’t realize it was so embedded, and you know that was as true with the woman journalists as it was with the men. It was just something that was in the culture at the time, but it did go to show all of the things that Tracy had to battle.
MINOW: Tracy, you started out in the film by saying you weren’t a feminist but you changed your mind, so tell me about that.
EDWARDS: Well I really put Maiden together for, if I am honest, quite a selfish reason because I sailed around the world in the 85-86 race with seventeen men. And people said to me, “Why do you want to put an all-female crew together?” Well, that pretty much is the answer right there. It was not a pleasant job to run around after seventeen guys, and cooking for them and everything else.
But I loved the sailing and they just taught me so much. In that nine months, I probably learned more about sailing that I have ever had, or will ever in my entire life. And I realized that I wanted to do this race again but I want to do it as a serious sailor. My passion is navigation and I thought, “No, there is no male crew on the face of the earth that will ever allow or have a female navigator.”
So I thought, “Well, I don’t like the way the world looks so I am going to have to change my world, and I am going to have to create it so that I have my place in it that I want to have in it.” So that meant putting projects together and I initially didn’t say I wanted to put an all-female project together. I wanted a project and then I sort of looked around me and there were only three girls left on this 85-86 race.
And I thought we would have to prove that we can do it if any of us is ever going to get on big race boats. So Maiden kind of came about like that. It was a platform for me to have my place on the boat. And I didn’t see myself as a feminist because if I am totally honest I didn’t really know what a feminist was, I knew what I had been told by men what a feminist was, which was a horrendous, dreadful, harridan, a horrid, awful person.
And at the age of 23 or 24 I didn’t want to be seen like that. I didn’t want people not to like me. So to my eternal shame I denied that I was a feminist but then later on in the race, every time we achieve something there seems to be more hurdles put in our way or people still weren’t taking us seriously, and I thought, “This is way bigger than me and this is way bigger than Maiden. This is for all women everywhere and this is a battle that I didn’t know that I was having this battle, but apparently I am having this battle and I am going to take it seriously.” And that’s when I literally looked at myself in the mirror and went, “Wow, you really are a feminist,” and realized if the meaning of the word feminism is equality and fairness, then I am.
And we all were and very many men were as well, but I definitely changed my mind about that whole perception of myself and I got to the point where quite frankly I didn’t care what people thought of me. I cared what they thought of what we were doing.
MINOW: You were reunited with the Maiden after many years, following a successful crowd-funding campaign to restore it. What does it feel like for you to walk back into Maiden?
EDWARDS: That was pretty distressing the first time I saw her after 25 years. She was in a dreadful state. She had been dumped in the Seychelles. She’d been left two years by the time I found her in the water in the tropics. The interior had been vandalized and there had been things ripped off the deck, it was just shocking actually and so I realized I had to save her.
And then of course Princess Haya, King Hussein’s daughter, stepped in and funded the restoration. It’s great to be reunited with Maiden. With the documentary and then with her reappearing it’s like Maiden is a person that just blast back into my life again, larger than life, and she is like, “Hello, here I am! How could you ever forget me?”
What’s lovely is what we are doing now, a two-and-a-half-year world tour to raise funds and awareness for girl’s education — there are good and bad things but I realized that 30 years later I am still having the same bloody conversation about what we can and can’t do that’s quite depressing. But on the upside the boat now has this amazing all-female crew, who all admit that they were inspired by Maiden and Maiden give them an opportunity to get onto a boat and get their qualification. So it’s a circular story and that makes me very proud, and just so excited to be doing what we are doing with our beautiful boat.
MINOW: What makes somebody a good sailor?
EDWARDS: That’s a good question. A multitude of things really. There are different types of sailors. We have three or four very natural sailors on the boat with Incredible instinctive skills that you can’t teach people. They are just there or they are not. You can teach anyone to sail but some people have that instinct and some people don’t.
I don’t actually. I have to work quite hard at sailing. I am not in any way shape or form a great sailor, but I love what I do. Therefore I find it easy to pick up and easy to learn, but it’s something that I still have to process and think about when I’m on the wheel or I’m trimming or whatever. And I think being a great sailor whether you are instinctive or not is your passion for what you do and it’s your love for the ocean.
It’s how you feel about your surroundings and the environment in which you find yourself. And I think that it never really matters who is best at the helm or who is best at whatever. The best sailing that you do is as a team and so all of those parts, all of those different composite parts they make up the whole, and putting those pieces together was a lot of fun. I did get it right and we were an awesome team.