The Remarkable True Story of Maiden;

The King, the Sailor, and the Open Sea

Tracy Edwards on racing around the world with an all-female crew, the groundbreaking journey captured in the new documentary Maiden.

(You can watch this documentary on Amazon Prime – It’s so inspiring!)

Some of the answers to these questions live in personal stories left on the cutting room floor. Even so, Edwards still thinks that “the film spends too much time in the early bit of my life, which I think is uninteresting.” But it is precisely these early bits that provide a clearer picture of how Edwards came to be a pioneer.


It was Edwards’s mother—a globe-trotting ballerina and burlesque dancer whose career-ending diagnosis of multiple sclerosis inspired a return to her first love of motorbikes—who served as a role model for her daughter. She also supported Edwards after she was expelled from school, and encouraged her to travel to Greece, where a family friend resided. Trouble with Edwards’s stepfather had made home a painful place. Greece was a realm of freedom and possibility. She took odd jobs on boats. She faced intense sexism from some men, but many others acted as mentors, showing her the ropes, so to speak.

Edwards’s most profound mentorship came from King Hussein, who helped secure Maiden’s sole sponsorship when no one else would take the chance. Their relationship could fill another documentary. Edwards had had no idea who King Hussein was when he boarded a vessel she was working on in Martha’s Vineyard, but they instantly connected. “Everything he did in Jordan was visionary. Women had the vote. They drove cars. They went to university. They wore business suits. There was a church alongside a mosque,” she said. “I remember having dinner with him one night, and turning on the television the next morning and he was with Bill Clinton at the White House talking about the peace process. I was like, I know that guy!”

Edwards and King Hussein shared a passion for navigation and communication. “He would speak to people all over the world on his ham radio,” she says. On the day Edwards returned from a transatlantic race, her mother said, “Some guy keeps calling, saying he’s King Hussein of Jordan; he wants you to have dinner with him.” That night, clad in an old boat T-shirt and safety pin-fastened trousers, Edwards hopped in her Vauxhall Viva banger, which was green with two red doors, neither of which opened, and drove to Kensington Gardens. “I drove up to this stunningly beautiful building with Jordanian guards standing outside with guns,” she recalls. “I winded down the car window, climbed out, and said, ‘I’m here to see King Hussein,’ and they were like, ‘Absolutely, madam.’”

“When I’m looking for a team,” she remembered the king telling her, “I make sure that they’re all more intelligent and have more experience than me.” His advice put Edwards at ease. “I knew I wasn’t a great sailor. I had been wondering, How am I going to do this project that I’ve told everyone I’m going to do?” she says. “So every one of the girls knew more than I did. All I did was put them together and try to guide them. And then my mum was trying to guide me. She said I was like a missile, and she was the guidance system.” At King Hussein’s memorial service, Edwards met other people whom the king had supported, including the first woman to jump out of a hot-air balloon on the edge of space. King Hussein “taught me you don’t have to be the best,” said Edwards. “You have to believe in people, trust people, and, if you truly love human beings, which I do, and understand them, then that’s the way you lead.

The documentary leaves much of this out in favor of exhilarating scenes: the fight to get funding, the fight to restore the boat, the fight to save the boat— and crew—when a hole opens in their hull. By its denouement viewers witness a literal sea change: the doubters are left eating crow, while throngs of young girls who have been following the Maiden crew’s voyage welcome the women home. The film ends on the highest possible note, but there’s an unseen epilogue.

The years that followed the ’89 Whitbread were difficult for Edwards. “I wanted to keep the legacy going, but I was suddenly on my own,” she said. “I did have my mum. But when I got married and divorced very quickly, the press became intrusive, climbing in my mum’s back garden while she was ill.” It was a dark period during which she felt that she had gotten in her own way. “It was my own stupid fault; everyone else was getting on with their lives, and that’s exactly what I should have done,” she said. “I did get to the point where I fell over big time.

Edwards, now 56, said that five years ago, she would have never talked about these struggles. But now the world seems to be changing. “I love this part of social media, where I see people saying, ‘If you can’t do it on your own, ask for help. There’s people there.’ And [how we’re] educating people about depression…Now we can all talk about it,” she explained. Edwards is nothing if not committed to creating visibility—about what women are capable of, about mental health, about what’s possible when you put together the right team. And even though the aftermath of the race didn’t make it into the documentary, perhaps we’ll see it someday in a feature film about Edwards’s life.

Four years ago director Alex Holmes approached Edwards about making a documentary after a talk she gave at his daughter’s elementary school. Edwards had also just discovered that Maiden, which she had given up years prior, had been dumped in the Seychelles. Her long-lost vessel and a filmmaker intent on telling its story both appeared just as she was coming out of a low point. “They [began] looking for money to make the documentary while I was looking for money to buy the boat,” said Edwards. “When I bought the boat, they found the money to make the documentary. Then they spent the next two years looking for the footage and making the documentary, while I spent the next two years restoring Maiden.

To the director’s delight, archival footage of the 1989 race existed: Whitbread organizers had asked for volunteers to film themselves during the race. Edwards jumped at the opportunity, recalling: “If we triumph, this is a record for any woman who comes after us.” Jo Gooding, Edwards’s childhood friend and the onboard cook, had been sent off to the BBC for four days of film training. “She’d find ways of quietly filming us,” explained Edwards. “She’s the most empathetic person I’ve ever met in my life, so her filming is about people.” The director found film from another boat as well, of Grant Dalton, the current CEO of Team New Zealand—claiming that “if Maiden gets around the world in one piece, I will run naked up Auckland High Street with a pineapple up my arse.” According to Edwards, “He never did it. I think he should have, really.

For Edwards and her crew, seeing themselves in the film is surreal. Edwards is touched by the new connections forged between some of the women and their children after the credits roll. “I loved watching Nancy [Harris]’s children say, ‘Mum, you are so cool! Look at what you did!’” she said. That context has proven crucial for Edwards’s 19-year-old daughter, Mackenna, who often viewed Maiden as her mother’s mysterious firstborn. After once again restoring Maiden, Edwards, along with Mackenna, launched the Maiden Factor Foundation. The organization raises awareness and funding for girls’ education, in part by sailing a similarly grueling course that made the vessel and its crew famous, with a new crew of badass women.

“It’s still hard to find the money,” Edwards lamented. “All these men are going, ‘We’re all for women, and girls’ rights, and everything else—that’s great. We just don’t want to put money into it.” Thankfully the organization is funded until October, thanks to King Hussein’s daughter Princess Haya. After that Edwards will do what she’s always done: “Define your own course, and keep moving forward,” she said. “You will absolutely end up where you need to be.”