First Hit: An extraordinary and heartrending film about women banding together to prove how amazingly powerful they are.
I grew up near boats. My dad and his best friend Frank Schultz built a 32’ cabin cruiser in our driveway so that they could dive for abalone together. My first memories as a month’s old baby are the warm sun, rocking waves, and the sound and vibration of the motor as I lay on the dark green engine cover.
My dad then bought a Mercury class day sailor, and it is here that I learned to sail. It was always exciting to head the boat as close to the wind as possible eking speed wherever possible, and having the boat heal over with water spilling over the rails both scared and excited me.
This film is about two things; sailing the most incredible boat race on earth —The Whitbread, and the first all-women crew to ever sail The Whitbread.
Tracy Edwards was always independent and driven, which is what she learned from her parents. When her dad suddenly died when she was 10, her mother, a new abusive stepdad, and she moved from Pangbourne England to Wales.
Rebelling in high school and eventually dropping out, at age 16 she became a stewardess on a yacht. This became her first introduction to sailing. Loving the independent life of being on boats, she began to learn the different positions by crewing on different ships. Wanting to be a part of the Whitbread race, the most dangerous and prestigious in the world, she sought out a crew position on one of the racing boats. However, the only spot any skipper would let her have was the cook.
Taking the job, she learned three things about this male-dominated sport and race, women were thought of as inferior, she hated how she was treated by the male crew, and she wanted to sail Whitbread again, but this time as an integral crew member.
Realizing this wasn’t going to happen on a boat skippered by a man, she brought together a team of women who would crew a ship that she would captain. Because she couldn’t find a sponsor, she mortgaged her home to purchase a used boat and did a second mortgage to fix it up.
She and her team re-built the boat by hand and got it ready to sail. Finding a sponsor to support the expensive logistics of racing in the Whitbread, she called her old friend King Hussein of Jordan. He said yes, and financed the remaining part of this excursion.
The press and all the other male crewed boats in the race predicted that this all-female crew would give up and turnaround before the end of the first leg of the event was completed. However, they finished the leg in third place, and because this wasn’t enough for Tracy and her crew, they pushed on and won the second and third legs of the Whitbread. Their results gained the respect of all sailors and the press, they were a crew to be contended with. It also created a wave of enthusiastic public support. And as they entered each port, crowds of people were cheering on this women’s team.
That was the real power of this team. The team’s ability to stay together, work hard, and succeed as a top-notch sailing team. The scene when the Maiden pulled into Southampton, England after completing the race brought tears to my eyes and the eyes of Edwards, who, despite her own acknowledged failings, let go and allowed herself the deep joy of doing a fantastic job.
The film used current time interviews with the crew as they recalled the power from completing the race as a team. There were also archive interviews of the Tracy and her team. Along with those clips, there was terrific footage of the race, the crew on the boat, and the power of the ocean.
Alex Holmes did an excellent job of splicing together the archival footage and giving the audience enough historical context of both the race and Tracy to make this story compelling. Tracy and team members Jeni Mundy and Mikaela Von Koskull were the main interviewees of current footage, and it was beautiful to get a sense of their view on the accomplishment.
Overall: Witnessing this sublime slice of sailing history helped to solidify the importance of the women’s movement worldwide.