Gender bias gets knocked backwards on its ass in this rousing doc named after the first ship crewed by an all-female team in the Whitbread Round the World Race. The year was 1989, when male chauvinists were dripping with disbelief that these “girls” could survive a nine-month yacht race, much less emerge as real contenders in a 32,000 nautical mile sailing sprint from Southampton, England, and back.
You don’t have to know port from starboard to build a rooting interest in the dazzling portrait that director Alex Holmes (Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story) has put together with invaluable help from editor Katie Bryer. He’s raided the archives and included interviews with the participants, who look back in terror and joy on their adventure — as well as flipping the bird to the fools who said it couldn’t be done.
The film rightly puts its focus on Tracy Edwards, the Maiden’s 24-year-old British captain who came up from deck-hand jobs and cooking on charter boats to lead her crew. The men of the media laughed and called the Maiden “a tin full of tarts.” Meanwhile, Edwards was winning financial support from King Hussein of Jordan and retooling a scarily un-seaworthy vessel into a shipshape contender that could handle the treacherous trek from Uruguay to Australia.
There are laughs to be had, especially when the females aboard pose for photos on deck wearing skimpy swim suits to clown the media for its sexist attitude towards them. Mostly, though, tension is the operative word. “The ocean is always trying to kill you,” says Edwards early on. She’s not kidding.
Some of the footage, shot by crew members, radiates hold-your-breath suspense, especially when the Maiden pushes through the ice floes of the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica. You’ll have your heart in your mouth as the yacht enters the final stretch. So sounds the trumpets and roll out the cheers for these female pioneers. They’re still a cause for celebration.