Edwards’s story — her imperfect childhood, her rebellious teenage years and her crew’s perilous nine-month journey at sea — is detailed in a new documentary, “Maiden,” by British filmmaker Alex Holmes. The film premieres in select theaters in the Washington area Friday.
For Edwards-Mair, the story of Maiden is a part of everyday life. She has heard about her mother’s ocean journey since she was young, her study has been converted into a home office for her mother to run a restoration project for the ship called the Maiden Factor, and next month the 19-year-old will set sail on Maiden as it makes its latest round-the-world excursion as part of a promotional trip to raise funds for educational efforts that would benefit girls.
But it wasn’t until the film’s release, Edwards-Mair said, that she truly realized her mother’s contribution to the sport.
“My whole life [Maiden’s story] was just words, but then seeing it was crazy,” Edwards-Mair said. “I had no idea that was what it was like. It’s so amazing. And it’s crazy to see [my mother] on the big screen and have people coming up to her afterwards and wanting to shake her hand or just say thank you.”
At 16, Edwards left her home in England and backpacked to Greece, where she took up work as a stewardess on charter yachts. Over the next decade, she learned to sail and joined her first Whitbread race — an around-the-globe yacht race that is considered one of the most prestigious in the world and is now called the Ocean Race — cooking meals for an all-male crew. Unable to participate as a fully integrated member of the crew, Edwards sought to organize a female team to compete in the race.
“I think one of the reasons I became interested in the Whitbread was that it gave me the chance to become part of an extraordinary experience I had heard so much about,” Edwards said. “I did not particularly want to be a cook, but that was the only way girls could get on the boat at the time. That’s when I realized I needed to do something to change the way things were.”
Recruiting skilled sailors proved no issue for Edwards, but it took the team another three years to find a sponsor that would support a group of women. Thanks to Edwards’s mentor, King Hussein of Jordan, with whom she had become acquainted through her travels, the crew was able to secure a ship in poor condition and the funds to participate in the race. Thus, Maiden was born.
“The world I lived in didn’t allow women to [sail in the Whitbread],” Edwards said. “I just thought, ‘I want to do this, so I need to change my world and my place in it.’ ”
The 33,000-mile competition charted a course spanning England, Chile and Australia. The race — in which a mistake can be fatal — is documented in Holmes’s film using footage shot by crew members. Years later, Edwards’s narrative provides a timely reflection on the state of sexism in sports and society.
“I remember thinking: ‘Oh, my goodness. My daughter, all these years later, is still going to face so many of the barriers that Tracy faced 25 years ago,’ ” Holmes, the director, said of his experience hearing Edwards’s story in 2014. “It really shocked me that so little had changed underneath. That made me think not only was this a beautiful story to tell but also a really important story to tell.”
Holmes said he recognizes how conversations around gender parity in the workplace have changed, with movements such as #MeToo and TimesUp, since he started work on the documentary five years ago. The film’s release comes at a time when issues around pay equity in sports have become a larger part of the public conversation, following the U.S. women’s national team’s success in the World Cup and calls for its players to be paid the same as those on the men’s team.
“The [misogynistic] attitudes are so ingrained in people, it becomes hard to change them after a lifetime,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to get the new blood coming up into the governing bodies and agencies, and I think we’ve got to catch up in other sports as well. I think we’re lagging behind.”
Edwards pointed out that despite larger issues of gender inequality within sailing, there are a number of “extraordinary” women who have risen to the top of the sport. Among them is Leslie Egnot, an Olympic medalist, former coach and current member of Yachting New Zealand’s Olympic Committee. Like Edwards, Egnot achieved a historic milestone for women in sailing when she skippered the first female crew in the America’s Cup race in 1995. She said she followed Maiden’s journey closely five years earlier.
“I thought, ‘What an amazing thing to be doing,’ ” Egnot said. “I thought it would be pretty cool to do, but I was doing Olympic sailing at that time, so I wasn’t involved with what they were up to. But they definitely pioneered the way with their achievements.”
While Edwards said she would like to see more girls, especially teenagers, involved in sailing, her latest battle is not in the realm of sports. Edwards and her daughter have teamed up to fight for gender equality in education. After the Whitbread race, Edwards was forced to sell Maiden, and in 2014, the yacht was discovered rotting in the Seychelles. Four years later, Edwards and her crew were able to buy Maiden back and complete its restoration. Now the iconic yacht has a new mission.
“When my mom rescued Maiden, I said to her: ‘You just bought a 58-foot yacht. What are we going to do with it?' ” Edwards-Mair said. “We thought about donating it to a youth sailing organization, but she’s always helping these charities for girls’ education, so I said to her, ‘Why don’t you use it to do that?’ ”
Maiden is at sea on its latest world tour, during which it is making 28 stops. The tour is led by a new generation of female sailors from around the world and is designed to help raise funds for the Maiden Factor’s affiliate charities.
Edwards-Mair has a creative role and takes photos for the organization’s website and blog, and in a month she will participate in a leg of Maiden’s journey as the ship sails from Vancouver to Seattle.
While she admits she is actually “terrified” of the ocean and does not have a seafaring proclivity like her mother, Edwards-Mair said she is looking forward to participating in the journey. For her, it will be an opportunity to glimpse into the world of a woman she says has inspired her her whole life.
"She’s made me believe that whatever I wanted to do, I could do it,” she said.