First Female Crew in Whitbread Race
Maiden tells the story of the first all-female crew to sail in the Whitbread Around the World Race in 1989/90. Skippered by Tracy Edwards, the women didn’t just complete the race, nor did they just win two of the most difficult legs; they did so against the malicious, spiteful, doubtful and blatant sexism of the male-dominated sailing world.
Sexism at Sea
As Edwards says in the film, she didn’t set sail as a feminist; she just wanted to sail. But “girls” weren’t welcome aboard racing boats in the 1980s. That didn’t stop Edwards from trying. She crewed aboard the Atlantic Privateer in the 1985/86 Whitbread as the ship’s cook, one of just a handful of women among the 200 sailors in that year’s race.
But Edwards didn’t want to cook; she wanted to sail. So she mortgaged her home and dedicated herself to finding a female crew, a boat, and a sponsor.
Strength, Stamina & Smarts are Female Traits
Finding a crew was easy. The world is full of adventurous and competent female sailors. Finding a sponsor was harder. Every company Edwards approached turned her down, afraid of associating their brand with what the male-dominated world expected to be a tragic failure. Men in the sailing world and in the press believed that women simply didn’t have the strength, stamina or smarts to sail a boat around the world, as if competency and courage were male-only traits.
Without sponsorship, Edwards scraped her plans for a custom-built boat and found a used one, which the crew rehabbed themselves. But they still needed money. When no British company came forward, King Hussein of Jordan did. Royal Jordanian Airlines became the Maiden’s sponsor, and the boat was painted in the company’s colors: gray, red and gold. (Edward’s friendship with the King of Jordan is a story in itself.)
“Tin full of tarts . . .”
On September 2, 1989, Maiden crossed the starting line with twenty-two other boats, all better financed, better equipped and all crewed by men, the kindest of whom expressed doubt at “a girl’s” ability to even finish. Most comments were more derisive, especially among the press who filled the papers with sexist and demeaning coverage, one calling the Maiden “a tin full of tarts.”
Maiden Takes Lead in Her Class
Maiden didn’t just keep up with the fleet, they won the two most difficult legs of the race outright: crossing the southern ocean from Uruguay to Australia and from Australia to New Zealand. Unprecedented crowds gathered at the end of each leg of the race to greet Maiden as she came into port.
Yachtswoman of the Year
Maiden lost her lead due to a leak at the mast (which the “girls” repaired at sea), a navigational miscalculation, and light wind. Nevertheless, as they approached the Southampton finish line at the end of May, 1990, coming in second place in their class, the fleet of well-wishers and a multitude of spectators who turned out to welcome them home clearly deemed Maiden and her crew the winners of the race. And the sporting world came about, naming Edwards Yachtsman [sic] of the Year.
Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.~Charlotte Whitton
The female crew and the Maiden didn’t just finish, but placed second in their class, eighteenth overall. Not true for the men in that year’s race: the sixteen-man crew of a Finnish sloop was rescued but the boat sunk; one man died after falling overboard in the Southern Atlantic; and the Soviet skipper of Fazisi committed suicide after the first leg of the race. I have to wonder how their sponsors fared?
Becoming a Feminist
And Edwards? She’s a feminist now. She founded The Maiden Factor Foundation, raising awareness and funding for women’s education around the globe.
Again and again, women have proved their strength, courage and stamina. The planet needs all the help it can get; it’s time the world embraced women to be the smart skippers we are.
Maiden is playing tonight and tomorrow at the MHCA Dover Cinema at 7.