By Emma Henke
‘Everyone has dreams; few of us realise half of them. Tracy had a dream so vast it was beyond all but a few to appreciate what it was, what it could be. The force that made the dream come true was Tracy; it was her obsession and she has managed over the past four years to forge it into a world-scale production involving dozens of people in hundreds of roles, whilst capturing the hearts of hundreds of thousands more.
And, while she never intended that Maiden would self-consciously wave the flag for women that, inevitably, has happened. More importantly, though, she has shown that with faith, with honour and with courage, anything is possible.’ *
When I realized that Tracy had launched the Maiden Factor and had set about raising funds to support girls in education, what I had to do was a complete no-brainer for me.
Tracy Edwards wanted to be part of the crew in a Whitbread Round the World Race yacht in 1989 but it was made crystal clear to her that women only sailed in this race as cooks. She decided that she would, in that case, have to get her own boat and have an all-female crew. The entire sailing establishment took this to be a joke to begin with and did their best to laugh her out of town. In the end, not only did she come good on her promise but she gave the men a serious run for their money and only just missed winning her class. She received many accolades, including a MBE, for her extraordinary achievement. It’s an amazing story – and it’s real.
This is what it is – first, you have to have a dream. But to have a dream, first you have to dare to dream. You have to believe that it could – possibly – be possible. And then you have to start to have a little inkling of an idea that it might be possible for *you* and only then can you start to try to work out how you are going to get there.
These days it’s much easier in general for women to believe that they can achieve more. At least, you would think so. But what if you come from an area where teenage pregnancy is high and life on benefits seems to be a perfectly reasonable career choice, and one taken by your mother and your sisters before you? What if you don’t know any girls personally who stayed in school to the end, never mind went to university? What if the cultural expectations – spoken or unspoken – are that you will get married and produce heirs and that will literally be your entire life, with no option to deviate? What if the people you see on the television and on social media seem to have lives so galactically different to your own that you gave up dreaming at about the same time that you realized that no one ever seems to get out of your town? What then?
My sister and I were both envious of our friends’ stay-at-home mothers who were there to make jam sandwiches when they got home from school. What we didn’t really twig at the time was that we had a mother who was – very quietly – building a little empire. She was making her dreams come true.
I was really lucky. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth – far from it – but I was born white, in England, into a seriously hard-working family who had had wealth which the generation before had (literally) gambled entirely away. It’s a long and pretty tragic tale that I won’t bore you with. My parents were hell-bent on making sure that our lives would be better than their own.
They strived – worked every single day (literally) – to make sure that my sister and I got the best education that they could source for us. We were also lucky, as young women, to have some extraordinary role models and we were absolutely not brought up with any sense of girls not being exactly as good as men – if not better – when they put their minds to it.
My mum worked just as hard – if not more so, to be honest – as my dad. She also somehow managed to be an attentive mother to us two girls and always worked really hard – often roping us in to help in some way. She opened a care home (definitely not with my father although I’m not sure to what degree it was against my father’s wishes) which ran for a while alongside the pub that they owned and we lived in – before it became quickly more profitable than the pub. She would work 12 hour shifts in the care home and then come home to the pub, have a quick wash and get changed, put some lippy on and go and serve behind the bar alongside my father. At various stages of my childhood, my mum was also taking in washing from old people, running a meals-on-wheels service, selling a variety of things to make extra money. She made saddle pads for horses at one point – I remember them selling very well through an advertisement she had placed in the Horse and Hound magazine. Anything to make money (within reason). My sister and I were both envious of our friends’ stay-at-home mothers who were there to make jam sandwiches when they got home from school. What we didn’t really twig at the time was that we had a mother who was – very quietly – building a little empire. She was making her dreams come true. No one had told her that she couldn’t do it because she was a woman – no one that she had taken seriously, after all. It definitely rubbed off on us although it didn’t always feel like a blessing at the time.
My sister and I didn’t have much sense of our gender being a hindrance to us. We went to good schools and we learned about some strong women – heroines floated out of books: Amelia Earhart; Marie Curie; Mary Seacole; Boudicca, Emmeline Pankhurst, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Jeanne d’Arc. The ball-breakers of Dallas and Dynasty were thankfully offset by women like Tracy Edwards were making the headlines and winning awards. Margaret Thatcher was our Prime Minister. Strong women forging careers were nonetheless – in most communities – very much the exception and not the norm. I had a sharp, elegant grandmother who absolutely knew her own mind and who only praised me for my intelligence. As far as she was concerned, that – and a nicely turned ankle, would get a girl a very long way. I worked hard.
I want girls to be curious, to ask questions, to challenge the established norms in their world.
Honestly, I hated school but I was blessed with endless curiosity and I loved reading. That combination was always respected in our household and homework time was fiercely protected. I had little self-belief, but I knew that women had done the things I was doing before me. I knew women who had done these things before me. I had role-models. I could stand on the shoulders of giants.
My achievements in life are tiny in comparison to Tracy Edwards. I have never broken glass ceilings like she has. I have sailed across oceans but that is where the comparison begins and ends. She is amazing and I have been in awe for over 30 years.
When I realized that she had launched the Maiden Factor and had set about raising funds to support girls in education, what I had to do was a complete no-brainer for me.
I want to help girls dream of better things. I want girls to aspire to achieve, and not just to have bottoms like Kim Kardashian. Positive body image is important, but what goes on between your ears is much more important than how you look. I want girls everywhere to treasure their education and understand just how powerful it can be. I want girls to be curious, to ask questions, to challenge the established norms in their world. I want girls to believe that they can grow up to be Tracy Edwards, or even more extraordinary.
Emma Henke was born in Poole, UK and raised in Kent. She has a joint honours degree from Magdalen College, Oxford University. She always wanted to be a full-time artist and a sailor. She crossed the Atlantic for the first time in 2014, aged 40 and finally, in the midst of a pandemic in 2020, quit her land-based life to achieve her other goal.
She has always painted and sold her work since the age of 14 but in the meantime has also had several other careers, including strategy consultancy, head-hunting, 7 years running her own art and design company at the turn of the century and then latterly running a residential rehabilitation unit for people with alcohol-related brain damage for the previous 14 years.
With 2 Atlantic crossings and 1 Pacific crossing under her belt, she now lives on board a beautiful 1971 S&S Swan 55 with her German husband and a lot of paints, in Amsterdam. She speaks French and German fluently (and a smattering of other languages too), loves taking photos and writing, swears like a pirate and looks forward to one day having a garden by the sea and a puppy.
* Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Maiden by Tracy Edwards & Tim Madge, 1990