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Maiden pushes forward equality... again!

by Mark Jardine 9 Aug 2018 13:00 BST

Tracy Edwards and her team on Maiden changed perceptions and in no small way pushed forward the concept of equality when they completed the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race. At the time, just the idea of starting the race seemed impossible in many people's eyes, but Tracy's single-minded approach and can-do attitude made it happen. Now Tracy is again pushing the equality on another step. Here's the story of The Maiden Factor in Tracy's own words.

After an interesting childhood which lacked direction, Tracy first started sailing as a deck-hand, first stepping foot on a yacht in the port of Piraeus, Greece.

"I was seventeen years old, working in a bar, and a man came in asking if I wanted to work as a stewardess. I said yes and there I was, working on this beautiful 102-foot-long motor-yacht called Kovalam. The next day we motored for four days to Rhodes and I was as sick as a dog, but when I got there I thought, 'This is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, this is it'. I fell in love with the freedom of it and the rag-tag group of people on board, and I realised that I wasn't the only one who didn't fit in anywhere. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, and here I was on the inside in this group of gypsies.

"I spent two years on that boat and then did my first transatlantic, after finding out you could go to Mallorca, step on a boat and go to the Caribbean! So, I walked along the dock, found a boat, found a bloke so that we could say we were a couple. It was the days of that kind of adventure, whereas now it's a lot more structured. It didn't matter who you were, there was always someone there to teach, to tell, to mentor – all my skippers were great and took me on to another level. They only saw possibilities and opportunities in this amazing way of life which helped me become a very positive person.

"In two days across the Atlantic I learned navigation. I'd been expelled before I did long division at school and had been told I was useless at Maths, but navigation became my thing. My Mother had told me to grab every opportunity with both hands and just go for it, and I did."

With Tracy the brainpower was clearly always there, it just needed an application and a use for the maths for her to realise why it was important. That practical approach is what has stood her in good stead throughout her life since:

"I talk to schools now and say 'If my maths teacher had told me that if I learn maths I could be a pirate' then I'd have jumped at it! What sailing taught me was the endless possibilities and that if you open yourself up there's inevitably someone there to teach you and help you.

"I really hope education has changed since my time. I was dreadful at school, but there wasn't any focus given to show me there was a reason to learn anything. I hope children are now more engaged for the right reasons, but watching the stress with my own daughter going through exams and the pressures on children, how can you learn like that?"

Tracy moved from being a stewardess, to a cook, and then raced around the world on the maxi Atlantic Privateer in the 85/86 Whitbread Round the World Race as the cook and only girl on board. That gave her the idea of putting together the first all-female crew to sail around the world by competing in the next race. The barriers in the way of this were vast, but Tracy got the campaign together and across the line:

"Watching the documentary that's now in production, I now get it, but I never got it at the time. I remember walking down the dock at the Southampton Boat Show – I looked like I'd been to Oxfam to buy my clothes - as a stewardess who has been a cook on a round the world race. I'm 21 years old and I'm telling all these legends of sailing that I'm going to put an all-female crew together to sail around the world. Now I get why they were so dismissive, but at the time I was incredulous – I didn't understand why they didn't think it was possible. I didn't do it to prove anything, I didn't get off Atlantic Privateer and say, 'Women's rights, here I come', I just wanted to go around again without smelly boys!

"The barrage wasn't just laughter, there were quite aggressive comments with people saying, 'You can't... you mustn't do that... you won't be allowed to enter'. There was serious discussion amongst the Whitbread committee and it was the wonderful Admiral Charles Williams who said, 'Of course they're able to sail around the world'. If people hadn't been so dismissive and actively against us I don't know if I'd have had the determination I needed to get the boat to the start line."

Like any great leader, Tracy's strength proved to be putting a good team together and that's what she did with Maiden:

"I didn't understand it at the time as I was making it up as I went along. We didn't have a clue on the budget, apart from the cost of food, but what I learnt quickly was all the experience I didn't know I had suddenly came together. I wasn't aiming to skipper Maiden as I didn't think I was capable of doing that, but when I had a look around the team I realised I was the only one who had done it before!

"I'd brought Marie-Claude (Heys) on board, who is an awesome sailor, and I thought 'Here's my skipper', but we clashed and my inexperience with situations like that meant I didn't tackle it head on. I pretended the problem would go away and it would all be fine, but we had a big blow-out after the Fastnet and I sacked her. We get on really well now and she came to the reunion – we were interviewed, and both told the truth, but we both look back on it now and say, 'If only we'd had a conversation' it may have worked out.

"We were all learning on the hoof, and our confidence came from our innocence and belief - it all just came together."

There have been many moments that have pushed forward gender equality, and Maiden competing in the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race was an iconic moment. The famous photos and video of Maiden running down Southampton Water surrounded by spectator craft shows just the level of support the team gathered then. But these were the days before the internet, so Tracy and the crew were largely unaware of what was happening ashore:

"We just didn't know. I knew the yachting greats from afar; Skip Novak and Peter Blake were in the race, but they were mates, so I didn't look at them as superstars. I didn't really know anything about the racing world as I'd been a charter stewardess and had been round the world on Atlantic Privateer as a cook. When we got New Zealand, Howard Gibbons (Maiden's Project Manager) told me that I was the first woman to be awarded the YJA Yachtsman of the Year trophy. I replied, 'What's the Yachtsman of the Year award?'. Howard said, 'You don't appreciate what you're doing here!'. We were just doing what we wanted to do, a bunch of girls sailing around the world to prove we could.

"When we came up to the Needles after an awful final leg where we ran out of wind and food, ghosting in, when we came up to Southampton Water, we saw a boat come out to us, then another one, and we assumed they were out for some regatta as it was Bank Holiday Monday. More and more boats came out, but they were all following us, and it was Dawn (Riley) who eventually said, 'Do you think they're here for us?'. We just didn't get it.

"Then the press boat came out, tilting over with photographers all on one side, Lord Moynihan (Minister for Sport) and Chay Blyth cheering. We then came around the corner and saw 50,000 people chanting 'Maiden' from Ocean Village – it was completely unexpected and amazing.

Tracy re-found Maiden in 2014 at an Indian shipyard in a sorry state:

"I had to sell her at the end of the race and knew that she was going from one owner to another. I saw her in Antigua quite a few years ago and saw all our names were still on the lockers, which I thought was weird. Much later I received an email from a marina in the Seychelles asking if I knew who owned Maiden. I replied that I did, but they said the owner had just dumped the boat there and they didn't know how to contact him, and she'd been there for two years.

"We started crowd-funding, which was an amazing and positive experience, and managed to raise the money to buy the boat by October 2016. I contacted Howard, who was just about to retire, flew out to see her and said there's no way you can sail her out of here as she's in too much of a state.

"While all that was going on, completely by coincidence, I was invited to Jordan to do a talk for AITO (the Association of Independent Travel Operators) and the woman who was organising the talk knew about Maiden and my link with Jordan. She asked, 'Have you just rescued Maiden and are you linking it to Jordan?' to which I replied 'yes, absolutely and we'll be linking it to King Hussein of Jordan'. She said let's go to Jordan and do a press conference. We went to Amman, did this press conference and all the journalists from the first time round turned up as they loved King Hussein so much. I came back to the UK and one night I received a phone call from the UAE, which turned out to be HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein who'd been sent the press release by her brother HRH Prince Ali Al Hussein, and she said, 'I want to help in honour of my father. What do you need?'. We met a week later, came up with a programme for girls' education, which is both our passion, combined with a world tour for Maiden. It's all grown organically, and hopefully The Maiden Factor will help stop us having the same conversation about equality in another 30 years' time. It has become something amazing and it's a nice story with no angle."

The Maiden Factor really has brought together all that Tracy did during the 89/90 race, and what has been her life since, campaigning for girls' education and rights.

"Maiden has become a tipping point and then with this being the year of the woman, one hundred years since we got the vote – I wish I'd planned this! I think the most important thing that has changed in the last 30 years is that many men are fully engaged in the conversation as well - it's no longer a dirty word to say you're a feminist. Everyone is beginning to understand that without equality, we can't solve the problems that we have in the world.

"Maiden can earn money – we don't have to be a charity with our hands out. She can raise money through charters, guest places, day sails, hospitality and sponsorship. I can do that bit and then we have all these amazing small to medium sized charities that we're working with - solution-based on the ground and in the communities – the ones that are getting the job done. They know what they're doing, we know what we're doing, and by joining forces everyone is stronger and we can give girls the hand up, and also educate boys, which is becoming more prevalent in countries like India, explaining how it benefits them as well. For me, this is the legacy of Maiden."

Bringing the boat back from scrap condition has not been an easy task, but the marine industry have rallied around, with companies such as Selden supplying new spars. Resurrecting Maiden simply wouldn't have been possible without that support as Tracy explains:

"Everyone has pitched up and everyone remembers her. She's back in the same shed in Hamble Yacht Services, and the same travel-lift driver that took her out for her reconstruction is the same one that put her in the water thirty years ago. You couldn't write this stuff! We've had so much support and enthusiasm from everyone. It's brilliant."

On 22nd September Maiden will be setting off on her three-year world tour from the Southampton Boat Show, where there will be a Facebook Live Q&A from the Selden stand with Tracy at 2pm on Wednesday 19th Sept, stand number J213. The team are hoping they can recreate the same flotilla as when they finished the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1990.

"That's what we're trying to recreate, and the Southampton Boat Show have been fantastic. We announced the original Royal Jordanian sponsorship at Cowes Week 1988, so we're going to be there again. We made our first ever announcement at the Southampton Boat Show in 1986! They've said, 'How can we help and what can we do?' They've given us free berthing and he three biggest cruise ships in the world are in that week and they're all going to blow their horns, the fire-tugs will be spraying, all the local yacht clubs will be involved.

"It's taken me a while to be proud as I have a real case of impostor syndrome when talking about Maiden, but now I do feel proud and can say 'thank you' when people mention it. We're really proud of what we're doing. There's a ground-swell of support for equality, amongst both women and men, and being a part of that is really enjoyable.

"The marine industry has stepped up, and not in a roll-of-the-eyes kind of way. There is genuine enthusiasm and pride to be involved in the Maiden project – not just telling people what they are doing, but also wanting to be part of the story."

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