Bravo’s hit series Below Deck Mediterranean is back on Monday, and Captain Sandra Yawn (“Captain Sandy”) is the leader of a group of characters who, some more so than others, either rise to the occasion… or fall or fail spectacularly aboard superyacht The Wellington.
Yawn was not the original captain pick for the series, but she has replaced Captain Mark Howard who appeared in Season 1.
The teasers and trailers thus far have pegged Season 5 of this nautical naughty-by-nature fly-on-the-wall experience as one loaded with drama, drugs, and likely some direct conflicts with some of the [coughhannahcough] long-time crew.
Today Yawn is a very happy soul, in love with gospel singer Leah Shafer while balancing her on-air life with being an international speaker and businesswoman.
The series Below Deck Mediterranean is surrounded by powerful female energy, not just Yawn. Executive producer Nadine Rajabi runs the show, and this season we see Malia White stepping up to the bridge as bosun. The return of chief stew Hannah Ferrier and the scuttle behind the scenes in social media leads us to believe the crux of all the high seas drama will center mostly around her.
Other folks to watch for include second stew Lara Flumiani, third stew Jessica More, lead deckhand Pete Hunziker, chef Hindrigo “Kiko” Lorran, and deckhands Alex Radcliffe and Robert Westergaard.
Monsters & Critics spoke to Captain Sandy ahead of the new season to get a read on what we can expect. You will want to sit down for this one:
Monsters and Critics: You’ve had a circuitous path to where you are now, what is life like for you?
Captain Sandy Yawn: I look at it this way. I’m God friendly. I have almost died so many times and it’s like, really dude? Like what the hell you want me to do? So for sure. Even this morning I wrote about it, because every day I wake up and center myself and I think, what’s the agenda today?
And the only thing that comes to me is just keep answering these messages I keep getting on social media. [I see and hear] the cries for help, the cries for… a lot of people who are getting sober, [because of COVID] a lot of people are drinking again, and some just want careers in the maritime industry.
So I get so many of these and I want to personalize every message, but it’s so hard. I have carpal tunnel syndrome from texting. The messages I get are really long and I do read them all, but it’s so time consuming. And I think, okay, that’s my job today,
M&C: Some of the remarks are very polite and some of them are accusatory and judging. I looked over comments on your Instagram feed and read what some say — a few remarks were negative and to your point, you only have so much energy to devote to dealing with individuals.
Captain Sandy Yawn: Well, when people are negative and they attack my character, I don’t respond. They don’t get me, but when people have an opinion, then yes, I respond.
But the minute they start accusing me of something, it’s like they don’t know me. They have no idea what they’re talking about. And a lot of times when people watch the TV show, it’s unlike being an actor. The difference is when people see us, it’s reality. They think they know us. We’re more approachable because it’s reality TV which allows that.
Because it talks to the audience in a way where it’s relatable. I think a lot of people get confused. They think that they just get to have opinions of how you should do your job.
I got a message last night asking, ‘why do I hate Hannah?’ I wrote back and I said, ‘I don’t hate anyone.’ How does that word get in to someone’s vocabulary first and foremost?
I don’t have hate in my heart for anybody. I don’t care if you wronged me or not. I don’t hate them, because to hate someone, you would have to love them. Right? That’s the difference.
I honestly feel I responded in a way that I don’t hate anyone. I’m Hannah’s superior. I’m there to do a job. If people can’t do their jobs and I have to step in when things happen — and it is year after year after year — you get frustrated! Any leader would.
You invest in people and you try to invest and when someone like Hannah makes it clear that she hates yachting — hates it! — and that you’re kind of there just for the paycheck…I always share with people: follow your passion.
There was a great video, Denzel Washington’s commencement speech, called Put God First. That video is incredible. We are all meant to fulfill that passion.
But if this industry isn’t your passion, then go and follow your passion because you’re really hurting yourself and it affects everyone else around you.
I love what I do, and I love mentoring people. Right now I just want to help Malia to the next level. When people show interest in the the maritime industry, which I adore and love and respect, then I’m going to do everything in my power to help them. As long as they do the work and they remain teachable.
But if I have someone that’s there just to collect a paycheck? Then what can I give them? All I can do is be an example. But I also have to lead. And in order to do that, sometimes you have to say, “you know what? You need to get your s**t together because I need you to do this job that you actually signed up for.”
I’m not targeting one particular crew member. But a lot of them are just there to collect a paycheck. And it’s so interesting because when you watch us on TV, that camera doesn’t lie, and you can see the authentic ones versus the ones who are not.
M&C: I don’t want to just focus on Hannah because obviously she’s active on social media and there’s a lot of viewers that think maybe she has lacked passion or is a bit of a showboater this season without giving away any spoilers. Who is your most valuable player for Season 5?
Captain Sandy Yawn: You know, I don’t know if I can answer that because of Bravo. But what I can say is that by the end of the season, because obviously this hasn’t aired yet, that will be revealed. But walking in and having Malia back, and to be able to get a young woman on the bridge and to be able to teach her and show her, brings such joy to my heart.
I want to help her in her career. Because unfortunately for women to date, it’s harder. It’s very hard to make it to the bridge, and so many people don’t even think it’s possible. I think when you have women on television, especially reality TV, and you’ve got two women on the bridge, that makes it more possible for people who are watching it. It makes it more real. Like, I can do this.
No one handed me anything. I worked my ass off to get to where I am. Malia’s worked her butt off to get to where she is. And you can see that. Honestly the entire crew…so far so good. Bravo is really strict about sharing that, but I can only share, really, my experience.
Hannah does not follow me [social media] anymore. I don’t know why. I’ve never done anything to that girl but tried to help her my entire life that I’ve known Hannah. And what I think that some people do in their mind is they create these stories that aren’t real because they have to justify their behavior.
And if you can blame someone else and create this storyline in your head, you start believing it. And then you’re just really selling yourself short. And I have… for many years I did that to myself. Even Malia, she’s turned it around. You can see she’s a very different person now from when you started to watch the series, you’ll see the changes.
M&C: People spend a fortune chartering these huge yachts. Deck crews, they make a lot of money with perks. How do you quickly manage a situation that may make for great camera moments for producers but in reality it’s dangerous to your professional reputation?
Captain Sandy Yawn: Well, I make this clear. Producers never make us do anything ever. They don’t make us do anything when it comes to the safety of the vessel and the crew and the clients, that’s solely up to me. Producers don’t try to, they just know the line, right? They have total respect for that.
The comment about that we make a lot of money? We make a reasonable amount. Considering we live and work [all on board]… we don’t get to go home. We’re away from home for months. Both of my parents died when I was at sea. You don’t see your family. There’s a lot of sacrifices.
I made a post this morning about anti-piracy and prevention. [On social media] I follow ships, crew engineers. I follow these people that every day sacrifice their lives to deliver [consumer] goods. Where do all the consumer goods come from? Or we have items that we go to the grocery store to buy, those are not made here. They’re put on ships and they’re shipped.
These people don’t get to turn around if they miss their kids or their family. They’ve committed to a career, right?
Same thing in yachts. The differences, well, no, there was really no difference. The ship’s beholden to the management company to make the delivery on time. The crew are beholden to the client to not only deliver on time, but we had the added stress of entertaining guests, right?
We’re not just delivering cargo, we’re delivering human beings too. They have the best time of their life and the most memorable moments because we want them to tell their friends to book us. The money is very justifiable for what we sacrifice. And that’s the hard part.
So many people went out of the yachting industry because you have no life on a yacht. There’s a lot of maritime jobs which are at home — electricians, plumbers, ship yards, like sales, charter brokers — and the amount of money that the maritime industry brings to each country is staggering.
And there are jobs that are land-based, not just yacht based. The land-based jobs pay less. It’s like if you’re a day shift or a night shift worker, it’s like we’re always night shifts, right? Because we’re working 24-hour shifts. We have six hours of rest. We have to have 12 hours of rest in a 24-hour period. That doesn’t mean they have to be consistent six hours. We just have to have that. That’s mandated.
And when you were taking care of people and you’re at sea, you have to show up for responsibilities. You’re not only on that vessel to take care of guests, you’re on that vessel because you have to, if, God forbid something happens, save their life.
That’s why I can’t have crew with anxiety problems. Imagine if your pilot or flight attendant and a passenger asks for a flotation device and the flight crew is having an anxiety attack? That’s why we all go through testing. We all have to have a stress test. If it is not revealed in your medical, and if and when you’re in a situation like that, that adds stress to the captain in that event.
So now, my crew member becomes a liability cause I have to rely on my crew to take care of the guests. Now we have the same stress, but we have that added guest stress. We got to come up with these smiles no matter what the drama is downstairs, or maybe we’re taking on water on our starboard shaft, or maybe something mechanical is failing.
There’s a lot going on that people don’t see. So my stress level is beyond. And then when I have a crew member acting like an idiot and is not doing their job. It’s like, for Christ’s sakes, you signed up for this! Just go do your f**king job. And that’s how I feel.
Meanwhile, I’m managing the engineer and what’s going on down there. [Maybe] the toilets don’t work for 10 hours. Imagine not having toilets with 24 people on board. Right?
M&C: You are a mother confessor, whip cracker and safety chief all in one. What are some of the danger areas in the various seas?
Captain Sandy Yawn: Even in the Mediterranean there are people who get their tenders stolen all the time, or wave runners. That’s why we pick everything up every night.
A pirate is a thief at sea. They don’t want to kill you. They just want your money or your shiny things that you’re towing. And then in the case of each ship, they [can] hold them ransom. Piracy is a big business. It’s about collecting money from the insurance companies.
M&C: Is there any way that you can kind of foresee these problems or do they just happen at the most unlikely time and situation?
Captain Sandy Yawn: You know, it’s always at night. It’s always when it’s rough and it’s always when someone’s on board, or it’s just the crew. You know why? Because usually when it’s just the crew, we’re out of dock. We’re only about 15 [people] on board. And when the problems happen, it’s usually when you’re in rough seas because everything’s moving and sloshing around.
So it is usually at the worst time. I remember pulling into Capri [Italy] once, just to pick up my charter. Naples to Capri is about an hour ride. We had no air conditioning and it was hot. So, we are like smoke and mirrors time, right? It’s, “Hey, look at this shiny thing, can we take you ashore? Capri is beautiful. We have this beautiful restaurant, whatever the name of it is.”
And they [charter guests] are thinking, “why are we going out to eat when we have a chef?”
You know what I mean? Meanwhile I’m on the phone trying to get the parts, the engineer’s trying to do everything he can. And the crew is trying to keep the guests happy and not even letting them know we have an air conditioning problem, because the boat has not heated up yet.
Well, we get them off, they go out, and we come back, the issue is not solved. The boat’s a hundred degrees inside. I had to share that, and you know what happens then? They can cancel their charter and get all their money back. We get 24 hours to fix the boat before they can cancel their charter. And guess what that looks like to the owner? This captain is a bad captain.
He’s not only going to pay all their money back, but he has to pay a fine. Then the charter fees of another boat. It’s like double the money. He’s got to give all the money back and then pay money.
Those contracts, they’re very strict. So we were able to get it repaired. This particular charter guest was a repeat client, and very understanding. And the crew did their best. The guests see that when they see a team come together at the most stressful time trying to keep the client happy. I would say 99 percent of them see that effort. And when they see that they’re in, and it’s all about entertainment now.
Meanwhile I’m continuing to be on the phone and stressing with the engineer and trying to figure out who’s going to cover this. I’m on the phone with the insurance company, I’m on the phone with a management company and so all this is going on.
I have to rely on my team to take care of the guests. Right? So that’s why I have to have a competent crew, a crew that want to be there, that really have a passion for yachting, [especially] when you have scenarios like that.
Because if you don’t, then they’re [charter clients] going to cancel. The owner is going to be mad at me and I probably won’t have a job.
M&C: You’re in recovery, you’ve been very public about that. You protect it. But when you’re around people that are hell bent on partying and drinking and maybe doing drugs and acting sexually all over the place, how do you compartmentalize and protect yourself and your recovery?
Captain Sandy Yawn: Well, I don’t have an issue with people drinking or doing drugs around me. I don’t want drugs around me. It’s illegal. Right? But it doesn’t affect me because I’m solid in what I want in life.
When I have to sit with a client and they’re intoxicated, I stay and I endure because that’s part of my job. But I don’t stay through the night, and when they get up and they want me to go upstairs and do an after dinner drink, I don’t, because I have a job to do.
I got to go to the bridge. I have to check on my crew. I’m running a business. So it isn’t like I can hang out with them. The guests don’t charter boats to hang out with the crew. They charter boats to hang out with their friends they bring on board.
A lot of times the crew get confused because the clients are nice, especially Americans. That’s why you see so many of these crew after the show, they are attached to the Americans, especially, when they’re foreign crew. Americans are warm, inviting…but they’re like that because Americans are kind, but they don’t want you in their friend circle.
And a lot of people get confused about that because the client says, ‘Oh, have a drink’ or they’re just being kind and in the moment, plus they had a few cocktails. They’re going to wake up and go, ‘why are you sitting at my breakfast table when you should be serving me?’ Right?
A lot of that happens because of alcohol. People are more friendly. But the reality is a lot of crew, especially in the eighties, it was a very different mentality, and over the years it’s just become more professional, there are more regulations.
That’s really what you have to stress to the crew is, listen, even when they [guests] are crying, even when they invite you, or if they invite you to do something… gracefully decline because you’re here to do a job and we’re not there to cross that fine line.
We are there to serve. And they’re going to like you even more. There’s a way to do it. And that’s called professionalism. And that’s called passion for your job.
M&C: You are in a new phase of life, it’s obvious that you’re deeply in love with Leah. You guys have this incredible relationship. You’ve moved to Colorado and yet her career, she’s in the gospel music industry, has her career suffered at all?
Captain Sandy Yawn: Oh my gosh. Yes. They pulled her music down off the shelf. Oh, it’s been terrible for her. She’s daring the devil, there’s so many extremists, and [now] she’s not allowed to sing on their platforms.
She was part of the biggest church by far. She sang for Presidents Obama and Bush.. Leah has had a big career, celebrity-wise, before she met me. Music is her passion. She just recorded a jingle for a friend of mine for a commercial — he’s running for Congress in Fort Lauderdale — last night.
I told her, “I will do everything in my power to propel you in your music because I believe your music is meant to heal souls.” Every time people listen to her music live, you just see the tears and the joy. She’s meant to sing.
And in the meantime, she does have a business that does well. And she’s a mom. She’s a business owner and she’s a very passionate artist when it comes to music. I told her, I go, “Hey, if we can’t do a live watch party, I’m going to do a concert. I’m going to find some sponsors” — she’s just released two new songs — “and we’re going to do a concert and you’re going to sing to my fans, get your band together. I’ll raise the money and pay you guys because time is money and let’s do a pregame show, just like a tailgate party before a football game.”
M&C: It’s unfortunate that she has had that blow back.
Captain Sandy Yawn: Oh my gosh, she’s been molested by pastors. I said, ‘You have got to write a book, Leah.’ Since she was young, she’s been in the church since she was five years old… she’s been involved with the church [even] as a kid. She was going to Japan and singing with her group and the guy in charge — she was 16 and he was in his late thirties — he booked adjoining rooms. She was so scared. She told her friends, ‘can I sleep in your room?’
And he told her, “you don’t sleep with me, you’re not going to sing.” And that was for the Young Americans. And she’s public about this, the pastor is…there’s a few pastors in prison. Leah was sexually abused. The freaking pastors! Their wives will be in the other room and they’re hitting on her. It’s terrible because she’s pretty, she has big breasts.
She says the church is not a building, church is in your heart, I love that about her.
M&C: It’s frustrating all the way around. Even with your career. On Reddit forums, we see women are held to different standards. Captain Lee doesn’t get the same flack that you do for running your ship professionally…
Captain Sandy Yawn: Well, because he’s a guy! I think a lot of it is largely women are jealous and they can be very vicious. There’s a Facebook group for the show. That lady [administrator] hates me. She doesn’t even know me. Apparently she screenshots everything I do. People text me and said they’ve left the Facebook group because it’s a Sandy bashing session.
So I talked to our showrunner yesterday and said, “Hey, I’m going to figure out how to get in touch with her and I’m going to call her up and say, ‘Hey, let’s, let’s meet’.” I said to Nadine [executive producer Nadine Rajabi] and she thought that was a great idea.
Talk to my real crew from the real yacht world. I guarantee you not one of them will say anything negative about me because I’ve invested in each and every crew member I’ve ever had on board. I’ve had to fire them. And when I do, I always say “this is killing me.” If I fire you, I like you as a person, but I need you to do your job and you’re not.
M&C: How did you go from high school and, you know, what I’m going to do with my life, to getting into the maritime world and getting on a boat? How did that happen?
Captain Sandy Yawn: You’re going to laugh. The jobs wanted and seeking employment section. I answered an ad in the paper. That’s the truth. My first position was on a boat and I had a captain that was an alcoholic and he crashed it, it was a mess.
And I thought, that’s all it takes? Then I left that boat after two years and I went back ashore. I started working for a company called Plan Maintenance Systems. What I did was go around to all the docks. I had a Jeep, a boat brush and a boat bucket and I washed all the boats and I made a lot of money. I had a nice life.
One day an owner approached me because he loved how I paid attention to detail, and he goes, “I’d love to hire you full time.” So what I learned when I got sober was integrity. I knew I couldn’t take the job because I was working for the guy that was his client, right?
I go back to this guy and I said, “Hey, your client offered me a full time job and I’d like to take it.”
And he goes, “I want you to take it because the fact that you came and told me that and you didn’t just take the job”‘ He’s like, “Sandy, take it.” And he lost a client. I took that job, and his name was John Flynn. He invested in me. He was a hard guy to work for. I was held accountable for a lot of stuff. I had to learn Excel spreadsheets, which is really big in the yacht world because you’re doing a lot of spreadsheets for comparisons, we negotiate shipyard bills, shipyard repairs, millions of euros, millions of dollars. Right?
And he molded me and he taught me how to drive. He did. He’s down in Fort Lauderdale. I’m still very much a part of their life, their family. Every time I go to Fort Lauderdale I stay in their home. And they’ve met Leah too.
Below Deck Mediterranean Season 5 premieres Monday, June 1, at 9/8c on Bravo.