Greetings again from the darkness. Thanks to Ron Shelton’s BULL DURHAM (1988), a favorite sports phrase emerged: ‘announcing one’s presence with authority’. Perhaps no better phrase exists to describe Tracy Edwards at the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race. The 24 year old Edwards was the skipper-navigator of the first all-women crew to compete in the race … a grueling every-three-years event where yachts are sailed around the world in multiple stages/legs.
Director Alex Holmes takes us back to Ms. Edwards’ childhood. We see home movies, interviews with friends, and hear stories to prove she wasn’t the easiest child to raise. Maybe too much time is devoted to this section, but it picks up when we get to adult Tracy’s story about how she was first attracted to the race and got involved as a cook on one of the vessels. She talks about being treated like a servant by the crew and how that inspired her idea to assemble an all-woman crew and race their own boat.
The interviews include other skippers (men, of course), the journalists who covered the race (men, of course), and the crew members from the Maiden. We see them today, and have the “then” photos and clips to gain an appreciation of the 30 years that have passed. We hear that “being girls is like being disabled in the sailing world”, and one can sense the attitude (even today) of the competitors.
The race covers 33,000 nautical miles, but Ms. Edwards’ historic voyage started long before they set sail. She speaks to the difficulty of fundraising – two years of almost no money, and how Jordan’s King Hussein not only inspired her, but also assisted. A second-hand boat at a reduced cost put the crew to work on rehabilitation, and this ‘sweat equity’ likely made them more determined than ever.
“The probability of not making it is high.” Self-doubt and insecurities bubbled up. Once the race got underway, the women were a team. Terrific archival footage puts us right there with the crew – massive waves, ice on the sails, incredible cold and wind. These obstacles from nature care not if the crew is man or woman. Ms. Edwards’ leadership is on full display during the various legs of the race. It’s clear by the end that they have gained respect of those who doubted them, and the warm reception proves how strong their fan base was. It’s certainly not the first sports movie featuring underdogs. In fact, the Jamaican bobsled team is a comparison that comes to mind as a group of dedicated competitors given little chance to succeed by those ‘in the know’. Here’s hoping the inevitable Hollywood dramatization never occurs, as no actor could tell it better than those who performed the work and raced the race.