Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Tracy Edwards talks circumnavigating the globe and the movie Maiden

I have been in absolute awe of Tracy Edwards since I first saw MAIDEN last September when it played the Camden International Film Festival. Ms Edwards had put a crew of all women together to sail in the Whitbread Round The World Race. Since most men would have trouble doing it  many people didn't think Edwards stood a chance. She proved that they were all dead wrong about her and her crew. 

I had to interview interview Ms Edwards ever since I first saw the film. I wanted to talk to her because I had to tell her what she did was amazing and partly because I wanted to know more about her amazing feat. I haunted the PR people for months until they finally said that Ms Edwards would be at Tribeca and I could sit down with her for a chat.

What follows is more or less what happened  other than some introductory nonsense and my asking for a picture with her (probably not professional but required since she really did rock the pillars of heaven). I want to thank the people at Falco Ink for setting it up, and I want to thank Ms Edwards for the time and for changing the world for the better.

Steve: I have to say I saw the film last September when it played at the Camden International Film and I fell in love with it. I've been talking incessantly about it.

Tracy: [laughs] Excellent
Steve: I've been haunting the PR people for the film since Sundance saying I had to interview you. They said " Tracy's going to be at Sundance" And I immediately go, " Can we do it by phone? Is she going to be in New York?"  And they said "How did you see the film? It hasn't played anywhere.."
 I said, I saw it at Camden and they, they were like, what?

Tracy: Oh, my God. That is so funny.

Steve: Forgive me but what you did was so cool.

Tracy: Thank you.

Steve: I'm sorry to go fanboy just like...But this is so cool. I don't care if it's all women. I don't care who it is. It's just one of the greatest things one could do.

Tracy: Thank you very much.

Steve: I'm sorry. I'm sorry to go crazy.

Tracy: No, not at all. [laughs] I wish I had the same reaction on everyone.

Steve: I went back to see it at the Tribeca press screening and it was great, I got to see it on the biggest screen at the festival.
Tracy: It's great on the big screen.

Steve: Oh yeah. Have you seen it like, on a really huge, honking screen.

Tracy: Oh, yeah. It's very surreal.

Steve: I have to ask one thing, which probably everybody who's seen it has asked which is  How did you film this? Because there is so much footage.

Tracy: Yeah.

Steve: I know there's, I know there's the interview footage. But while you were on the, on the boat, somebody was filming everything?

Tracy: Yeah. So we had, um, It was the first time really Whitbread had thought, "We should have cameras on the boats." And no one was really that enthusiastic. The guys were like, "We wouldn't wanna film me, we've gotta...We've roughty‑uoghty...roughty‑toughty ocean sailing. We got some sailing to do."

And we realized we have to do this because, whether we fail or succeed, there's got to be a record of this because we are the first, and we felt a huge sense of responsibility to the women that came after us. You know that we should record this for posterity. So they said, "OK, so we'll give you some cameras," and we were like, "Great."

And Jo was the cook and she said, "I'll film." So we went, "Right. Off you go." She went to the BBC, did four days training, came back with this bloody camera which was bigger than she was.

We were like, "Jo, you going to be able to manage that?" But she was amazing. If it wasn't for her filming, this documentary wouldn't be what it is, because she's a very empathetic person. And do you know there's stuff there, I know she's filming me, I didn't see it at the time.

I know there were times where she put the camera in my face and I went, "Bugger off." Um, we all did a little bit, "Jo, will you please go away?" I'm so glad she didn't and she kept filming. She learned to be a little bit more secretive about it which is how she gets those great shots.

And we had a fixed camera as well. We were the only boat that had this. When we built the mast we put it on it. And we built the electronics for the panic button. So when Joe couldn't film because we needed everyone on deck, the last person that would hit the panic button, it would start filming.

But of course, we had no way of getting it off the boat. I mean now, they film themselves sailing around Cape Horn with a drone, and it's beamed straight back. What we're doing with Maiden we had to put it in these plastic containers, and hope that we'd see someone, we could throw it over the side and say, "Take that to the nearest land," and off it would go.

When Alex got hold of me to ask if would I allow him to make this documentary "Can I...?" He said, "Has anyone ever done anything with your story?" And I said, "Well, a long time ago." He said, "I would love to. I'm thinking of a drama."

I went, "Oh, OK."

And he went, "Well, because there won't be any footage."

So I said, "How old do you think I am?"

Steve: [laughs]

Tracy: "We did have cameras. I'm not 500." And he went, "There's footage?" I went, "Yeah, there's...We filmed the whole thing." I thought he was gonna die and go to heaven. I mean, he was just like, "This is gold." I mean, it took a long time to find it all.

Steve: How much footage did you get to shoot? Do you know?

Tracy: Oh god, we...Oh, I don't know how much, but a lot. I mean we, we...tons and tons of those old Beta tapes.

I mean, we filled up a warehouse full these tapes, but a lot of them got lost. Alex spent two years finding the footage. I mean that man is dogged, I tell you. I could say, I think some of it is there. I've got some. My mum's got some in this box here and I think, you know, someone's got some over there. And that film studio, they've got some, and...But you know, I mean it was, uh, it was a real labor of love.

Steve: Now everybody takes their phone out, of course.

Tracy: I know.

I think, I think none of us really understood the importance. But Jo really got it, and thank god she did.

Alex has said there was some footage on, on the men's boats but it's, [laughs acting like a person standing uncomfortably in front of camera] it's stuff like, it's a camera. "Uh, we're sailing at 18 knots. We've taken the sail up. We've put the sail down, and we're going in that direction."

He said, but the difference between the girls' stuff is the chassis, the little vignettes of life on board. And, you know, he said, "Jo, you've completely made it."

Steve: Once you got used to the idea,it just was always there.

Tracy: Yeah, you kind of got used to the fact that Jo was around with the camera. I mean, there were times when, you know, in the middle of something you just go, "Would you please get that camera out of my face?" [laughs] She kept going.

Steve: Would you ever do this again? Or would you, say, do it now?

Tracy: Well, I'm kind of doing it again with Maiden. Because we just rescued her and restored her within the Maiden Factor. Um, so this is encouraging the next generation of girls.

Not, not to go sailing, but to do whatever they want to do. We work with schools. We're encouraging social activism within young people about changing their world, about not accepting this bloody mess that we've made, and about making those changes. Um, so Maiden is now basically restored, and she's just about to sail to New Zealand.

We've got these amazing young women on the boat who are kind of us, but younger and fitter. Um, and then we've got trainees on the boat, and we're also raising money for girls' education. So this is Maiden's next chapter. We're not racing, but I think this is just more important.

Steve: Once the movie gets out and everybody knows it all you'll raise tons and tons of money.

Tracy: Yeah.

Steve: How damaged was the boat? How, how much restoration had to be done?

Tracy: God it was...Ugh, it's awful. The first time was not as bad as the second time. This is the second time I've rescued this bloody boat.

The first time was much more about just redesigning her. She looks a lot worse in the film than she actually was.

Um, so we did have to replace some bits of the hull, but mostly, it was ripping everything out and redesigning the boat because women sail differently to men. We have different positions of strength. Um, so we redesigned the boat to make the most of our our strength and how we sail.

Restoring her the second time was a real labor of love, because she was falling apart. So, it was really replacing a lot of stuff.

Steve: Here's a question, you brought everybody together, and everybody went and worked on the boat from whatever. But how did you live? How did get the money to just live while you were doing it?

Tracy: It was a struggle

Steve: Because that's one thing that's not in the movie...

Tracy: I know. There's so much that's not in the movie.

I had done quite well in, in my charter days. It was good money. I managed to save enough to buy a house. My dad left me some money as well. Um, so we had a base, which is great. A lot of people sleeping on the floor. I say this to young people now. They're like, "This just sounds horrendous."

But, girls would arrive and be interviewed. And I'd say, "Right, you're on the boat. I can't pay you. I can give you a bed and I can feed you, but you'll have to find a, find a job. And you'll have to work on the boat." And they go, "OK." [laughs] So we would work all day in the yard, maybe 10 or 12 hours a day. Then we'd go and work in a pub, or a restaurant, or whatever, and then we'd spend the weekend selling stuff at boat shows to make money to keep going. We also brought in bits and pieces of sponsorship.

And we'd funded a certain amount of the project before King Hussein came in with the, the final amount. But it was, god, it was hard. I mean, we lived hand‑to‑mouth.

I think Alex ha‑started out with a five‑hour film and he had to get it down to an hour and, and a half. And I think a lot of that the, sort of the basic minutia thing that had to go. He keeps threatening he'll release the five hours at some point.

Steve: Have you seen the five hours?

Tracy: No. [laughs]

Steve: You don't wanna see it? [laughs]

Tracy: No. [laughs]

Steve: Do you have a problem watching yourself?

Tracy: It's very weird.

I do have to say though there are bit where I'm saying to camera, "I have found 12 women." I'm like, "What? Are you practising to be a member of the royal family? What is that? Why are you talking like that?"

You know, 'cause obviously I thought that that's how you had to speak to the camera.

But then there's other things where I say something quite profound and I think I don't remember ever saying anything profound when I was young. Where did that come from? That's not me. It doesn't feel like me at all.

Steve: Were you aware that you were acting differently according to the situations? Did you have to learn how to handle the press?

Tracy: Yeah. Absolutely. But I had so many amazing people around guiding me. My first press conference I ever did, I announced the project and then ran off because I was just mortified, and embarrassed, and had never spoken in public before.

So Admiral Charles Williams, who was the head of the Royal Naval Sailing Association, who organized the race, he had to get me from the toilets and bring me back in and say, "You have to answer questions now." But he was wonderful and he spent a whole day teaching me how to be interviewed which he didn't have to do.

You know, there were some men that really supported us and he was one of them. And he was so old school. It was, you know, terribly, terribly like this. [mimics upper crust British accent] "Admiral Charles Williams, Royal Navy."


But he was just wonderful. And Howard of course. But I was learning, we were all learning on the job. So I started out being a fundraiser and then someone said, "Well, you have to now be a PR person." OK. So I learned how to do that.

"And you have to be a manager." "OK, I'll learn how to do that." "And because you can't find a skipper, you're also going to have to skipper the boat." "Uh, OK." So it was just assimilating all these different parts, because we were just making it up as we went along. I mean, there was no format ready for what we were doing.

I look back at it now and I think, "How the hell did you pull that together?"

Steve: How hard was it to navigate in the rough seas? How did you take readings? Did you have to do it by yourselves?

Tracy: We had one of the first ever satellite navigation things on board. The big problem was though that they hadn't put all the satellites in place. So they sold us this gear. And the satellites were intermittent, at best. So it was a mixture of dead reckoning which is basically guesswork, using the satnav when it came on and when you could grab a position. And using the sextant when you have any sun or, uh, or whatever. That was a time of, of huge change. And we were using sort of last century stuff, with the next century stuff. The nav station was like a journey through history.
Now you walk into a nav station, it's all boring electronics. But those are the days, it was really interesting.

Steve: I know you were worried about weight and I know the electronics of that period...

Tracy: Huge.

Steve: I can't imagine doing like Shackleton sailing the little boat and stuff in the rough seas. I'm going like I can't imagine anybody actually doing that and not getting lost.

Tracy: We did it sometimes. You have to. But a lot of it is dead reckoning and you kind of get used to...I‑, it's something that is instinctive. You learn, kind of get to learn the speed of the boat, the way she's drifting sideways, the...It's like a sixth sense really.

At one point we did reckoning for nine days because there was no sun and there were no satellites. And at the end I was 26 miles out, which the proudest moment of my life, I have to say. My biggest achievement and No one knows about it.

Steve: And there is something I wanted to ask you about in relation to the dead reckoning, there's a sense that you beat yourself up when you, when you got into the rough seas and you caused the problem with the, with the mast.
Is it really fair to beat yourself up when there's no way you could ever know that the seas were ever going to be that rough?

Tracy: I shouldn't be where we were. That's the thing. I, I put us in a bad position. And, uh, I, I am very... [sighs] I do this to myself a lot. I am my own worst critic. No one criticizes me more than I criticize myself. I was frustrated and angry that I'd made a stupid mistake. If it had been an honest, you know, I thought this was gonna to happen and everything else, but it was a stupid, stupid mistake and I've never got over it. It is still something which wakes me up in the middle of night and I go, "Oh god, why did I do that?"

Steve: You can't really have known.

Tracy: No, no, no, you can have more of an idea. I mean, if, if you're reading your weather charts properly, if you're looking at your weather and you assimilating the information, information correctly, then yes, you should be at the right place.

Steve: And sometimes the right place isn't what you thought it was. I still don't think you should beat yourself up. [pauses to look at notes] Your mother rode in the Isle of Man TT?

Tracy: She rode a motorbike around the course.

Steve: Oh my god.

Tracy: A Triumph Tiger.

Steve: I had to ask. My father's dream is to go to the Isle of Man. I can't tell him that your mother did that 'cause it will kill him.

Tracy: [laughs] Well, my uncle lost his arm on the, the Isle of Man TT course.

Steve: He was racing?

Tracy: No, hhe wasn't racing, riding a practice round, came off and, um, yeah, lost his arm.

Steve: Do you ride motorcycles?

Tracy: No. [laughs] I did it when I was a teenager. I did everything when a teenager.

Steve: Oh. You're not doing now.

Tracy: But...No. But I come from a long line of very strong women. I had a lot to live up to my family, let me tell you.

PR Person: one more question, if possible?

Steve: OK. Let's try this. So what was the coolest thing that's happened to you as a result of you doing this?

Tracy: Wow, no one's ever asked me that before. [Thinks] Oh my god. Uh, Maiden opened so many doors for me. She changed my life forever. She gave me access to opportunities. I did other all‑female crews. I did a lot more firsts, more all‑female crew firsts and broke loads of records. I guess getting the MBE was [laughs] fairly unexpected. I remember my mom, my mom, my brother, and I were at Buckingham Palace. [laughter] Which is surreal anyway. And so, you know, expelled from school when I was 15, complete drop out, kind of wangled my way through life. And she looked at me and she went, "Well, who the fuck could have expected that?" The only time I've ever heard my mother swear.


Steve: It was probably her proudest moment.

Tracy: She said, "That was unexpected, wasn't it?" I went, "Yes, that was rather unexpected." "God, how did that happen? My brother went, "I have no idea because I'm the intelligent one in the family." I went, "Oh, well, there you go, you see."

Steve: Uh, it, uh, wha‑...Before they come back and drag me off. Is there anything else that nobody's ever asked you you thought they have?

Tracy: Oh my god no, I have no idea. I think I've been asked every question in the world... apart from that one.

I think maybe, I think what I've learned most about the film coming out is that I have spent the last 30 years thinking, "Yeah, Maiden changed my life." But, you know, it was my daughter who said to me when someone came up  and said, "Oh my god, I think you're so amazing. What you did was so brilliant. And, "Oh my god, I can't believe that you..."

And you know, and I just went...I did what I always do and I went, "Oh no, really, it was, um, no, it's nothing."

And after she left, Max, that's my daughter, said to me, "That is so rude, mom. Someone wants to tell you that they think you're amazing and you are so rude."

She said, "What you need to do is say, 'Thank you so much. I'm really proud of what we achieved.'"

And I went, "Oh my god."

And then the film happened at the same time and I think we all, all of us went through this revelation that. "We did that and actually, I'm really proud of what we did," and it's the first time I've ever said it, ever.

Yeah. And now I think it is cool. I've spent a long time going. "Oh, it's nothing really. Nothing. Oh god, please don't, please don't praise me. Oh god."  I mean being English, of course, is the worst anything and being a female. And, you know, I used to be Roman Catholic so I'm programmed to be guilty about everything.  And to find it really hard to accept anyone telling me I'm good at something.

The film has really, really helped. So, and I think, as well, what it's done is it's, it's allowed us to talk about what we did with our children, without it being, "Oh well, I did this," because they want to talk about the film and that allows us to talk about it. It's been an extraordinary experience.   I feel very lucky.

MAIDEN opens in theaters Friday June 28 and is very highly recommended. My review can be found here. Nate Hoods can be found here.

Tracy Edwards and yours truly. And while it may not be the most professional  of pictures it's damn cool 

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