30 years after breaking sailing’s glass ceiling, the Maiden docks in Marina del Rey

By Gary Walker

Tracy Edwards at the wheel during the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Sailing Race

When she sailed into the record books in 1989 as skipper of the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Race, Tracy Edwards never imagined that her legacy would extend beyond that particular feat.

But 30 years after her groundbreaking crew won two of the race’s six legs against more experienced male competitors, Edwards is starting to realize how far she and other female sailors have come — and also how much further they have to go in a sport still dominated by men.

Recently the race became the subject of a documentary titled “Maiden,” named after the 58-foot racing yacht Edwards piloted 30 years ago, and her nonprofit Maiden Factor Foundation, which is raising money to support educational initiatives for girls around the globe. For about two weeks this month, Maiden was docked at the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey while the crew prepared for the next leg of a 2½-year fundraising tour.

Edwards, who no longer sails, sold the vessel after the historic race but through fundraising was able to buy it back five years ago to save Maiden from demolition and restore it.

“She looks exactly how she did then,” Edwards said wistfully after a county-sponsored discussion and screening of “Maiden” at Burton Chace Park on Sept. 12.

Education has become a top priority for Edwards, who offered young women in the audience cautionary words about her own misspent youth.

“I did not take advantage of my education when I was younger. I was a very angry and unhappy teenager. There are so many girls around the around the world who would give anything for an education, and I always say I didn’t succeed because I was expelled [from school]: I succeeded despite having been expelled,” she recalled.

The success of the world-champion U.S. women’s soccer team, the record number of women running for and being elected to office last year and
the underdog story of the Maiden crew are all signs of the tide turning toward greater opportunities for women, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said.

“When you think about the impact the women of the Maiden made on the world … what they did then was make this a great time for women,” Hahn said. “Shattering that particular glass ceiling by racing around the world led to a lot of other glass ceilings being shattered.”

Before the crew departed Tuesday for Valparaiso, Chile, Edwards was feeling cautiously optimistic about the struggle.

“Things are moving forward, but it’s still hard for women, especially in England, to get onto racing boards,” she said. “What I really love about this time is we’re not just having this conversation among ourselves — we’re having it in public.”

Hahn, who joined the Maiden crew for a brief sail last week, said the film was inspiring.

“There were moments that I actually wept because it was so moving,” she said. “I think what I was feeling was the sense that no one thought that they could do it. They were talked down to. They were made fun of. It takes a lot to have people believe in women sometimes.”