★★★★½ - STUFF
- It's one of the most inspiring sporting stories of the 20th century.
Forget the 27,000 miles of ocean, wild weather and cramped conditions they would eventually have to endure, just making the start line was difficult enough for the first all female-crew of the prestigious Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.
Rough seas, chilling winds and the inevitable boat breakages were nothing compared to the challenges of trying to secure sponsors and dealing with the dismissive, vitriolic comments from those in the yachting "establishment", before Maiden set sail from Southampton on September 2, 1989. Female sailors weren't "strong enough", "skilled enough" and "wouldn't be able to get along" for the five legs and potentially nine months at sea, according to some.
That 26-year-old Tracy Edwards was their leader was an even bigger shock to many – including her own family. Her mother, a former go-kart driver and dancer, thought that she "never stuck at anything in her life" (Tracy had been suspended from her high school 26 times before she was eventually expelled).
And yet, Edwards, who had discovered the "freedom" of sailing while working as a stewardess on a boat in the Mediterranean, before working as a cook on Atlantic Privateer in the previous Whitbread, was determined to achieve her goal – no matter what the personal cost. That included enduring countless rejections, plenty of ridicule and remortgaging her house. But, with the help from a seemingly unlikely source, King Hussain of Jordan, Maiden joined 22 other vessels for the first leg to Punta Del Este.
Three decades on and Edwards and her crew's remarkable story is brilliantly recounted in Alex Holmes' (who has previously produced or directed tales on Lance Armstrong, Le Mans and England's dramatic 1990 World Cup semi-final against Germany) beautifully crafted documentary. The enthralling tale is brought to life by a Man on Wire-meets-Touching-the-Void mix of fabulous archival footage (including glimpses of New Zealand's own Sir Peter Blake and snippets of Peter Montgomery commentary) and enlightening new interviews with the major players (but thankfully free of any "dramatic reconstructions").
It helps greatly that the subjects are frank in their opinions, regrets and occasional recriminations, detailing what went right – and wrong.
You'll cringe at some of the condescending comments made by the yachting writers of the time, you'll laugh at some of the Maiden crew's antics (including wearing bikinis into Fort Lauderdale to distract the press from their poor performance on that leg) and cheer as they show "the boys" up, especially in the daunting Southern Ocean.
Forget tales of drug-addled footballers and former All Black first five-eighths, this is the sporting documentary you need to see right now.
- James Croot, STUFF