Determination is everything. Luck and a sense of humor help too. Determination
Maiden race challenge back in 1989-90 as well as the Maiden documentary
over the past few years. Currently, the racing yacht Maiden has been resurrected
determined new life carrying forward Tracy Edwards' Maiden Factor Foundation
Luck brought Maiden skipper Edwards and Maiden director Alex Holmes together.
who has devoted much of her post-sailing life to advocating for women's and
and empowerment, happened to be the speaker at an elementary school celebration
South West London where she lives. Holmes was the proud parent of one of those
students inspired by Edwards' talk. "Someone must have canceled-I was invited at
last minute and had to drag myself to go," recalls Edwards. "But I got a phone
call the next day:
'Hi, my name's Alex Holmes, I'm a film producer, I love your story and my
wouldn't shut up about it on the walk home.'"
"I'm the first to admit," says Holmes, "I went to the school evening with a
slightly heavy heart
as I've sat through many such evenings with my older kids. But this year they
had a guest
speaker-Tracy. I was immediately struck by the power and resonance of her story.
It got me
thinking that things were still different for my son compared to my two
daughters-that I still
felt I needed to remind my girls that they shouldn't feel in any way limited by
the world around
them, that it's theirs for the taking if they choose. Tracy's story still felt
as relevant now as it did
back then. Not only was Tracy an amazing character-you can tell that straight
off the bat-not
only was this a very powerful and positive emotional story, but it was an
important story. And
now was the time to tell it."
Holmes at first envisioned recreating the Maiden odyssey as narrative drama. His
long career as
a documentary film producer and director had encompassed short-form
journalism for the television series World In Action, the post of creative
director of the
documentary department at the BBC, and the development of long dramatic
such as the BBC miniseries Dunkirk and the feature bio-doc Stop at Nothing: the
"I assumed that, because so much of Tracy's story was confined to a boat, the
chance of there
being any footage from back in 1989 was very slim. My assumption going into the
was maybe writing a screenplay and making a drama. And Tracy rather wonderfully
opposite assumption, because she was quite proud that Maiden had had a camera
whole way around, and that they had mastered it themselves.
"So here was a story that I fell in love with immediately," continues Holmes,
"and a way of
telling it in documentary form. Of course, we had hills to climb. You have to
find the footage.
You have to raise the finance. You have to clear your schedule and make time.
But I knew it was
going to happen, really from that first encounter. Tracy's one of those people
who has such a
strong sense of purpose and confidence herself that it emboldens you when you
speak to her."
A footage treasure hunt ensued, through the Whitbread Race's archives, to old
video out of
local news outlets around the world, to Tracy's mum's closet: "We managed to
track down bits
and pieces," remembers Holmes. "It was frustrating at first, because we thought
archive would all be in a pristine state somewhere in a box-you've got the gold
that's it. But it had been flung to the four corners because, you know, when
they cover these
sports events they rage around the world, but nobody's really keeping track of
where the tapes
are or where the high-quality footage is. Everything's a dub of a dub of a dub."
"My mum collected everything," says Edwards. "Tea towels, cups, badges. Took 10
photos. Recorded everything on the news in every country. If she was in the UK
and she heard
that something was on the news in Australia, she would track it down. When Mum
died I found
this huge plastic box of all the stuff she had collected, and Alex said 'this is
Most remarkable is the very raw and real footage filmed onboard Maiden. As
"We had two cameras, a fixed camera mounted on the back of the boat, and a
camera. When you see the video lurching around in heavy seas, that's the fixed
was an emergency button by the hatch, so if it's 'all hands on deck' the last
person up would hit
that button, and that's where we got the images of surfing giant waves and that
sort of thing.
"Then there was Jo with her camera"-Joanna Gooding, Tracy's girlhood friend who
the round the world journey as cook (and documentarian). "She was everywhere
camera! You'd be doing something, you'd turn around and it was 'Jo, Jo, go
away!' But she
never gave up. Alex said it was her tiny little vignettes that make the film."
Says Holmes, "The other boats had cameras, but the things they captured were a
horseplay, guys being guys, or rather stiff interviews or action scenes. Jo is
now a counselor by
profession, and she always had a high level of emotional intelligence. Very
attuned to people.
And she and Tracy were the only ones not on the four-hour watch system, so Jo
could be the
observer and make shots that contained character, not just action. In fact,
we've given her a
camera credit on the film."
While some of the shots look as if she must have been lashed to the mast, Jo
were of course scary times-we were always hooked on with a harness in bad
camera we had was huge and not easy to use in some conditions. I would rely on
others to film
as well, especially Tanja" (one of the foredeck who kept watch off the bow).
"People did not
always want to be filmed and there would be times when you are hanging on to the
camera, trying to keep it dry and get a steady shot."
All the footage gleaned from a year of archival and back-of-closet research
material for Holmes and Editor Katie Bryer, whose work editing the documentary
greatly impressed Holmes. Add to that the one-on-one interviews with many of the
members, whose vivid personalities and memories tell tales that no vintage news
could. "Katie's an astonishingly talented editor, especially in these slightly
stories. She just got Tracy and the crew straight away. It took about nine
months of off-and-on
work to cut the film together-it takes a long time to make something really
Early on, Holmes and the New Black team made a creative decision to keep the
squarely on the time frame of the 1989-90 race itself, with a brief preamble
into Tracy's early
life. "There were so many different films we could have made," says Holmes. "But
to me, the
simpler we kept the story, the more powerful it was. Unfiltered. I regard it a
portraiture-this is my version of Tracy. And the story of that crew. Someone
else could have
taken the same material and told a profoundly different story."
As Producer Victoria Gregory says, "The crew are all such brilliant people, you
could make a
movie about every one of their lives." Gregory is co-founder (with Maiden
James Erskine) of the sports-oriented documentary production company New Black
which produced Maiden.
The Maiden Factor
The documentary film was not the only Maiden-related project to kick off back in
spring in 2014. Not long before Holmes and Edwards met on the fated school
night, Edwards got a call from a boatyard in the Seychelles. Maiden, the "wreck
pedigree" that Edwards had rebuilt back in 1989, was about to be scuttled.
Edwards had sold
the boat immediately after her history-making Whitbread Race (she was dead
Maiden had gone on to sail under different owners and different names. Now, she
abandoned for unpaid boatyard fees. She's yours if you'll get her off our hands,
boatyard in the Seychelles, fees forgiven. Tracy raised the funds through
bought her back.
Post-Whitbread, Edwards had continued racing and organizing competitions in the
world, and had written two memoirs: Maiden, a best-selling recounting of her
experience, and Living Every Second. In the mid-2000's, her focus shifted to
children through Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP), an NGO
contributing to the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). She went to
University at the
age of 47 for a psychology degree and continued her inspiring work as a speaker.
heard about her old friend Maiden being located, she brought all these strands
"It was my daughter's suggestion" says Edwards: "'Why don't you use the boat to
for the girls' educational charities that you're a patron of and that you work
with?' I just
thought that's a brilliant idea, so that became our raison d'etre."
As in all endeavours-altruistic, cinematic, and other-first there were funds to
"We spent two years getting financing sorted out for our Maiden documentary at
time as Tracy was raising the funds to salvage Maiden," says Victoria Gregory.
"Tracy and I
became fast friends, and we'd go through parallel frustrations and joy over good
news and bits
of financing. It's not that different, really, independent filmmaking and
running an operation
like Tracy's. We ring each other up and 'Oh, I've got to do month-end accounts
'Oh yeah, me too.'"
"As they found money to make the documentary, I found money to rebuild the
Edwards. "The whole thing has been synchronistic. It's just meant to happen."
Synchronicity played out dramatically when Edwards secured support for her
Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan,
sponsored Maiden's 1989 Whitbread race through Royal Jordanian Airlines. As
was making the rounds of international conferences drumming up support, HRH
heard about her campaign and reached out, unsolicited, to offer help in the
restoration of Maiden, continuing her father's legacy.
Meanwhile, the derelict yacht Maiden was the centerpiece of another reunion when
arrived back at the same Hamble shipyard where the crew had stripped her down
her by hand back in 1989. "When we rescued Maiden from the Seychelles and
back, the reaction was so extraordinary," remembers Edwards. "Everyone was in
whole boatyard was out to see her. Seven of the original Maiden crew. These guys
work on her 30 years ago, these rough-ty tough-ty yard workers. People were
saying, 'what is it
about Maiden?' and I said 'well, she made me who I am. It's kind of the Maiden
that's how we hit upon the project name. Once we restored her to her former
became the vessel for our two-year world tour to raise funds and awareness for
and female empowerment."
The Maiden Sailors
"If Tracy has a unique skill," Holmes says, "it's in spotting talent in other
people. And the way
she chose that crew and put them together was extraordinary. I think her single
achievement was attracting that group of women. They fit together so perfectly."
[For profiles of each of the Maiden crew mates, see Meet the Maiden Crew, which
The crew members had all remained in touch to varying degrees with Tracy and
each other (the
upside of Facebook for a group scattered across the continents.) The
of activity around the making of the documentary, the repatriation and
rehabilitation of their
old sailboat, and the launch of Edwards' Maiden Factor Foundation brought old
together in person and gave Holmes the opportunity to film interviews (though
not all the crew
members were able or available to take part in the filming).
"One by one," says Edwards, "the girls asked me, 'how honest do you want us to
be?' And I
said, Oh, complete honesty. This must be an absolute record of what happened,
first one"-a TV documentary made shortly after the race-"was all nicey-nicey,
aren't we all
wonderful? And this one was the truth."
When Edwards, Holmes, and the New Black team embarked together on the making of
they quickly reached a mutual understanding that extended to all the crew
Holmes: "Tracy trusted us, which is unbelievably brave, I think. I always marvel
who allow their lives to be put on a sleeve, particularly the way Tracy did it,
allowing it to be
very raw and real. We made it very clear from the start that we wanted
everything. We would
choose the right bits to tell the story in the most powerful way. And they would
have to trust
us. That's the deal-we really want to tell this story. We think it's an
important story. We want
to honor what you achieved. But we can only do that if you're totally upfront."
The Maiden sailors did not let them down.
As Sally Hunter (formerly Creaser, one of the helms and head of safety on
Maiden) reflects: "I
sometimes feel that the whole Maiden project is portrayed as being some rather
existence which the girls on board had to simply endure to get it done. I
remember it as being
huge FUN. We were a bunch of girls who loved racing yachts and being at sea and
we got the
chance to compete in the most iconic yacht race there was. We all got on very
well with each
other, had a good boat to sail, were sailing round the world, what's not to
love?!" She and her
husband, also a sailor, now operate Hunter Yacht Deliveries in her native
Marie-Claude Heys (formerly Kieffer) was the first mate and, at the time, most
crew member; she was sacked when conflict with Tracy escalated shortly before
Whitbread start date. It's hard to imagine that the skipper and first mate who
leadership would ever find themselves on friendly terms, but, says Heys: "A
chance meeting in
Hamble about five years after Maiden allowed Tracy and I to exchange views and
build a bridge.
We have remained in touch thereafter. We were young, enthusiastic,
problems came from passion and immaturity. At the time the stress was so great
we were not
very forgiving, but neither of us bore a grudge. Pulling together this unique
challenge against all
odds was an incredible feat. I was disappointed not to sail the race with
Heys, like several of the Maiden crew including Dawn Riley, Mikaela Von Koskull,
Paret, Sally Hunter, and Amanda Swan Neal, has made a life in yachting and sail
racing at a
high professional level. Heys competed in the 6th and 7th Whitbread Races on
and sailed many other competitions as well. She married Paul Heys, a fellow
sailor, and they
operate Key Yachting, a boat broker business.
"Everyone turned out to be the person we knew they would be thirty years ago,"
Claire Russell, Maiden's medic and now a doctor in New Zealand. "We knew Jeni
absolutely brilliant. We knew Jo was really caring and was going to become that
amazing counselor who creates safe spaces for everyone. We knew Dawn was just a
nature who was one of the fittest, most driven and brilliant women. So when we
became of everyone, we'd just go-yeah, of course."
Dawn Riley, like her fellow Maiden watch captain Michele Paret, is one of the
top yacht racing
pros in the world. Both sailors have logged hundreds of thousands of open-ocean
and won numerous awards (they, along with Mikaela Von Koskull, another Maiden
still close friends who sail and compete together). Riley, who is also an
author, public speaker,
and TV commentator, operates Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay, NY,
training, coaching, and
developing sailing and racing professionals and amateurs. "I can't get enough
my program to fill all the demand in the marine industry," says Riley.
Claire Russell notes, "It's too bad the documentary didn't have the footage to
really show how
phenomenal Dawn and Michele were as watch captains" (in charge of on-deck
spelling each other in the four-hour watch system). "There were times in the
when they helmed until they were frozen, till they cramped, because they knew
and we knew
that they were the ones who were able to pull it off when we were in a shit
fantastic yachties. That couldn't be shown because there was nobody on the
then-we were all just doing our jobs as crew, praying and hanging on."
Riley shrugs off the terrifying wave-surfing sequences. "I grew up sailing the
Great Lakes. That
prepares you for anything."
Equally high profile in a very different field is Jeni Mundy, who, with Tanja
Visser, was on the
foredeck keeping watch and handling the sails off the bow. "We'd hang off the
bow and watch
for icebergs and help maneuver sail changes, out the end of spinnaker poles, up
the bow, out
the boom, dangerous and wet. Tanja and I never sailed together-one would be
the other was working."
Now, that dauntless energy runs multinational corporations. Mundy is the
Director for UK and Ireland for Visa; prior to that, she was Chief Technology
Vodafone, the telecomm giant. After her Maiden experience and with a few years
adventuring and sailing under her belt, Mundy earned a Masters degree in
engineering, a career path she traces back to the 1989 Maiden rebuild in the
"I was interested in electronics, so I ended up with the job of rewiring Maiden
top to bottom
even though I had to figure out as I went what I was doing. My Masters
communications systems, which was how I worked my way into telecomm-and it all
with slithering around in the bilge and trying to keep smoke out of all the
Mundy continues: "In business, we always talk about 'teamwork' but Maiden gave
me a very
high bar. Being a great team is a piece of work. You have to be very deliberate
about it. We
were all such strivers on the Maiden team, and I try to help women succeed and
confidence in tech and business. I'm very proud that Visa Europe just signed a
sponsorship supporting women's football with UEFA" (Union of European Football
And some sailors love-horses. One might intuit that sailing and equestrian sport
attract adventurous personalities, and several of the Maiden yachties have made
prominent part of their lives. Tanja Visser breeds dressage horses in her native
Russell runs an equestrian facility in New Zealand with her husband; and Nancy
Harris, who was
in charge of deck hardware, Sarah Harrison, reserve crew, and Mikaela Von
Koskull, all own and
The Maiden Screening Reunion
When the documentary Maiden was finally ready to roll, the race crew and other
participants made up its first private audience in a London screening room.
"Apart from Michele, who had the very feeble excuse of waiting for the ice to
break up in the
Northwest Passage, we all made it there" jokes Claire Warren.
"We've always had little pockets of reunions," says Tracy Edwards, "but we've
to get everyone together at the same time. So we paged them. And we hassled
them. And we
organized them. We sent them tickets, we made it impossible not to be there."
children-most now in their twenties-were there too.
"The best part," says Dawn Riley, "was seeing the kids, the boys and girls,
seeing their moms as
really cool. Nobody had changed, it was the same old banter and humor and jokes
We're crammed in the taxi and they're saying 'Dawn, you're all dressed up but
you always did
look better out of clothes than in clothes.' And Tracy going over our schedules
like we were
fifteen years old. Walking down the London streets barefoot because none of us
can wear high
heels. Nothing changed."
Anticipating the screening, Marie-Claude Heys felt "excitement and a little
beforehand, joy at reuniting upon arrival. A mixture of pride and surprise
during the film,
ending with gratitude for the compliments from my former teammates about a job
"We are all phenomenally close," says Warren. "If anyone ever pushed the panic
24 or 48 hours the crew would be there wherever you are in the world. Not that
it was a panic,
but this film gave Tracy a great button to push."
Mikaela Von Koskull observes: "The bond we Maiden crew have is the strongest
unbeatable and unbreakable-similar, I imagine, to what teams experience who have
something-war, climbing-any incident where you are truly 100% relying on your
for survival! Seeing the documentary, once again, made me realize that the
Maiden was truly a historic first, something I believe that most of us-to this
always been able to comprehend."
Maiden and her indefatigable skipper and crew paved the way for many women in
followed them. "If what we did inspired people and changed misconceptions then
that is a very
good thing that happened from something that was so enjoyable," says Hunter.
"It's great to see women athletes holding their own," says Amanda Swan Neal.
with interest the upcoming women's professional team in the Sydney-Hobart yacht
thirteen women are sailing stars in their own right."
But, as Mikaela Von Koskull reports, "Progress is slow. Maiden did change a lot
of lives and was
really the steppingstone for women sailors, but there is still a long way to
"Women athletes still have to carry day jobs," observes Jeni Mundy. "I did
expect us to be a lot
further on in these many years. My patience has run out-c'mon! c'mon!"
Dawn Riley, who trains the next generation, sees the long view: "Women feel that
they have to
achieve perfection right off the bat. It would be so much nicer if the guys were
about what they can accomplish and women could stand up and ask for more
disprove the naysayers. We've moved past that as a society. In large part the
problem is retiring
Tracy Edwards is optimistic: "The great message we always had was simply
equality. What's the
difference between thirty years ago and now? My usual answer is: not enough. But
there is a
difference. Thirty years ago, men were either aggressive towards us, or there
Whereas thirty years later, women are not just having the conversation with
ourselves. We are
having it with men."
For the team of intrepid young women racing Maiden back in 1989, matters of
and politics were important, but secondary; the ocean, the wind, the
camaraderie, the sailing
itself were the essentials. "What I learned from racing Maiden," concludes Dawn
Riley, "is how
big the world is. Literally. Because I sailed around it."
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