Captain Sandra Yawn is back on the bridge this season of Below Deck Mediterranean and the seas are rougher this time around. So are some of the interactions between crew members, which includes: navigating romantic feelings as coworkers, terse kitchen talks with Chef Adam, and a seasick third stew named Kacey whose resume touts far greater experience than she’s amassed.
Captain Sandy is ultimately responsible for smooth sailing and all the people on board (some we don’t see on TV!), but last season and this one, we observe the many challenges she has faces and how her experiences with the crew differ from those of Captain Lee, the male captain from the original Below Deck franchise.
I caught up with Captain Sandy to discuss the current season:
SHW: When I interviewed you last season about Below Deck Med, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/interview-with-the-first-female-captain-of-bravos_us_594ac786e4b07cdb1933bf50, we discussed the concept of the “chauvinist edit”. I had really noticed last time – and I feel it again this year – that when you issue a command, we see a discussion amongst crew members questioning it. Do you personally feel this has to do with being a female captain? It still seems to me that whatever Captain Lee says goes, while you are constantly second-guessed and scrutinized.
CSY: Yes. Absolutely! You’d have to be living under a rock and blind to not realize.
And I’m being scrutinized by women which is shocking. If you look at Twitter – which is less than 3 percent of Bravo’s viewership – you can see how vile, vulgar and venomous people are towards me. I discovered that most of those tweets are from individuals with very few followers. I think they are probably people who never had the opportunity in their life to try to do something or never believed in themselves that they could…
I find that when people feel down, they put other people down to feel superior. That’s never been my way of living. I don’t put other people down to have a voice.
From what I’ve heard, women in general in the workplace can be extremely catty. There are other businesses where women are supportive of each other. Some of the comments you see are pure hatred from women, but much less often from men. I worked incredibly hard to make it in a men’s world to be a super yacht captain – it’s really not easy! It’s already a challenge being a woman, but then add that you have to navigate a ship to keep everyone safe at sea.
So, my management style with the crew is how I want to be treated. If someone screws up, I know it’s not intentional. I talk to the crew like human beings and not subordinates. I realize I do not have a typical boss-like management style. My style reflects how I would want to be treated if I made a mistake. You don’t have to beat their souls down or take their breath away. You just have to talk to them like human beings.
Now I see where that can backfire and you get to observe that as a viewer, when they get confused and think they’re equal with me in my position. We ARE equal as human beings, but it’s important to listen to the captain so everything runs smoothly.
When we are at sea, there’s no bias, no race, no gender for me. There sometimes are life-threatening situations and it’s essential to be able to rely on others for their positions. If I don’t treat each of the crew like human beings, then there’s going to be a breakdown. This is about survival. The ultimate goal is to charter, to create the ambiance and a resort-style feeling that is far superior to a 5 star resort.
There’s that challenge for a captain in this environment of: How do I get there with this young hormonal crew that likes to drink a lot? I talk to them like people and rally them together. I always ask at the beginning “What are your goals?”
With Conrad, he responded that he wants to make money to do what his dad does. That tells me this kid could care less about yachting. He’s here to make money to go buy houses. But that was not my issue with him, and you see things are tense – the audience doesn’t see all of the behavior. My biggest issue with Conrad was that he was constantly on the bow while others were working. He was following Hannah around like a lost little puppy and lying on the dock when a boat was being tied up next to us.
You don’t see everything as a viewer. Conrad was constantly on the bow smoking while everyone else was working. Hannah still did her job! I don’t care who hooks up…I’m not a camp counselor or their mother. I am the super yacht captain who has to deliver a type of service. If you can’t be present in your position and can’t lead your deck team, that’s when I start getting upset.
Conrad comes across as a know-it-all. Are you going to listen to me and learn or are you going to tell me how to do it? You need to be present in your position and lead your deck team. If you can’t, that’s when I get frustrated. I sat Conrad down many times on the bridge and he was very strategic. When things would backfire, I said to Conrad ‘you are your own demise, you don’t even see that. You are the reason you feel I’m being mean to you. You have to look at where your head is.’ He admitted I was right, but then went back and did the same things.
With Joao, I didn’t know he drank like that until watching the show. I said ‘you might want to address that. I never want to meet Jezebob!’ He explained that ‘When I drink, Jezebob comes out and I don’t remember anything.’ Well, you better keep Jezebob away from me.
During the charter, Hannah never came to me and said he was belligerent, nor did anyone else so I was in the dark about that. When they come on the boat at 2 am after a night out, I am in bed. I don’t go downstairs. I live with these people and I have to run the boat and be up early. The crew are never going to act that way in front of me, none of them.
SHW: Soly Mar, who is a fan of the show, asks: What do you do when the crew goes out?
CSY: I go have dinner in a nice restaurant with a friend. I am always back at a decent hour because I have to work the next day. I’m never out til 2 am!
SHW: I was curious and some fans reiterated my thoughts: With Malia and Adam, you seemed cool, but find Conrad’s interest in Hannah to be distracting. What is different about those dynamics?
CSY: Oh, major difference! Malia and Adam, that was never in front of me. I never witnessed it…but Malia and Wes, yes! There’s an episode in which I say to Wes: ‘I don’t want you working with Malia anymore, you put her with someone else.’
I separated her and Wes because his head wasn’t in the game anymore. It’s about what distracts you from the job and that’s what I was seeing with Conrad. I didn’t get to where I am by strictly what you see on television and if people ever think that’s a super yacht captain’s full time job, they are sadly mistaken.
There are so many details we deal with that you don’t see. There is a certain pressure we’re under. We’re budgeting the charter and the client’s money, the owner’s money, and reporting to a management company, reporting to an insurance company, managing dockets, agents and fees. In the meanwhile, you have a crew that you just want to do their jobs so you don’t have to worry about the things to satisfy the client. I am a team leader and I like rallying people. I got your back and I expect you to have mine. When I ask you to do something, it’s non-negotiable. Asking is a polite way of saying to do it. That’s why at some point you hear me say to Adam ‘Just say yes, Sandy.’
That’s another thing this season: I said to call me ‘Sandy’ so they feel more relaxed, but you know what? You bet your ass next season they don’t get to call me “Sandy” anymore. I’ve learned that doesn’t work. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or exactly what it has to do with. I REALLY don’t like the idea of leading with intimidation at all and that’s not what I do, but some distinction needs to be made to establish guidelines. This is not just a TV show, this is a super yacht in the middle of the Med. I think that for some, being on a TV show can get to their heads. I need the crew to remember that I’m responsible for every soul on board. If something happens, it’s my responsibility and not the show’s responsibility. So next season, it’s “Captain.”
SHW: That brings me to a question from another viewer, Siobhan Murphy: How many other crew members are there on the boat who aren’t on camera?
CSY: There are the two engineers and the first officer. So essentially, I personally am responsible for 37 people on board (counting in guests and the camera crew).
SHW: Have any of the crew expressed a desire to be a captain of a super yacht like you are?
CSY: Yes, Malia (from last season) now has her captain certification because of a discussion she and I had. When it comes to some of the junior crew like Conrad, when you’re not wanting a career in yachting, you’re taking someone else’s position that actually wants a career in yachting.
When I had Malia on board, she told me her goals and about her interest in diving. I said she’d make a great captain because she has a great sense of humor, she’s smart and really knows how to diffuse situations. The day after our discussion, I opened up the log book and she had signed up for captain courses. She’s now a captain because I inspired her.
SHW: I wondered, and so did other viewers, what it’s like having both Hannah and Adam back after some issues with them last season. Adam had a problem following the preference sheet, told Hannah she had ‘resting bitch face’ and was attitudinal. Gil Morelli is a viewer who also noted your terse dynamic with Hannah. Did your experience with her last season affect your judgement of her going into this season?
CSY: Absolutely! Watching the show back, I realize I’m really hard on Hannah and it is a lot because of last season. I do demand excellence and communication, and I actually have had a conversation with Hannah and apologized.
I can truly reflect now and own up to how hard I was on her.When we spoke, I said I was blown away that I didn’t pay her any compliments. She seems so tough that I probably didn’t think she needed any compliments at the time, but she’s a human being and she needs compliments. Off camera, we have had conversations. There were moments during the season that we sat on the bridge and had talks.
Candidly, I’m not there to make friends. I have a life outside of yachting, including friends and relationships with people who are in my peer group. This is a very young crew and the dynamics are generally different. When I have a conversation with them, it’s all about them because I’m listening.
When Adam made that ‘resting bitch face’ comment to Hannah in the galley…you don’t fire people over a comment, you reprimand them. If you fired over a comment, you’d have an empty boat. They all get mad and say regrettable things to each other. I sat him down and said ‘Adam, that’s unacceptable.’ I actually said ‘Who are you? You’re not the person I talk to every day’ after watching him. This season watching the show, I can see when he was a dick and not nice.
Hannah can’t control the clients, but she could’ve said (to the guest who was interfering by cleaning up the plates) ‘You clear the plates, you’ll be sitting here for 20 minutes before you get your dessert.’ Adam is thin-skinned and temperamental – most chefs are. But he’s too hard on Hannah. She’s dealing with the guests.
Now the Preference Sheet is a much bigger deal. I didn’t know he was not following it initially, and that’s terms to get fired. He followed them this season!
Typically, boats don’t do what you see with Adam, the menu and the food on this show. On super yachts, there’s a set menu and you cannot request 5 different meals.
What Adam – with help from Hannah – needs to do is draw the line and when it gets out of control, that’s when they need to involve me. Those meals don’t get made in 5 minutes. They require an all-day prep. Hannah’s responsibility is to say to the guests ‘I’m so sorry. These are the options and the chef doesn’t have the other ingredients.’ She needs to convey that there’s only so much room for provisions on the boat. When you explain that in a professional way, they understand.
SHW: I keep thinking of those first charter guests and I was personally appalled at how rude they were. Stephanie Coultas Corley asks: How did you avoid getting super angry with them this season?
CSY: The initial difficulties that you see – so many of them! – were actually never communicated to me. I didn’t realize the guest had made that comment about ‘dog food.’ On a typical charter, the chef would have communicated all of this to me. I would have spoken to the primary about the fact that the guests are bringing down the crew. That’s where I come in as a captain.
I can intervene and communicate this to the guests. That’s why I’m there, to manage the guests. Very often for the crew, it’s about seeing an issue and knowing they need to come to the captain because if they try to handle it with the guests, it’s not going to go anywhere.
There are times when you need to have the captain intervene so the guests are no longer blaming the crew. This takes the pressure off the crew and that’s my job.
SHW: When the ship is anchored, what are you as a captain typically doing most of that time?
CSY: I’m on watch during the day while the crew is working, I will support the deck crew, or help Adam. Other times, I’m filling out paper work. I’m constantly busy, but I’m always on the bridge because I’m on watch.
SHW: A viewer named Lisa Hanlon wanted to know if you split the tips with the crew. She was also curious about the crew members we don’t get to see on the show.
CSY: Yes, evenly. On that particular vessel we had 12 crew members. At the beginning of the show, you see the 2 engineers and the first officer. They know to stay out of the way of the cameras!
SHW: Several fans wondered about your personal life and asked if you are single or taken.
CSY: I’m single and…I’m happy. I’ve been in relationships, but I certainly would NEVER hook up with anyone on a boat. It never lasts. You need that separation. I would never want to work with the person I’m in love with because then it’s disastrous.
SHW: Heather Vezner wanted to know what your workout routine is and how do you stay in shape?
CSY: I’m addicted to Soul Cycle, not just for the exercise but also for the way they speak to you and the mental stimulation. You have 45 minutes and this amazing workout. It feels like a meditation workout, exercise for the soul. On the boat, I do pushups in my cabin. You’re moving all the time up and down the stairs. There are also weights on the boat. I also go for a run if there’s time and we’re on the dock. I can also get up early in the morning and have the crew pull me on a water ski which is a fun workout.
SHW: That would have been fun to see. I wish they had shown that! We see that Kacey is getting sea sick and the last charter there were people who did as well. Is there something about the seas this season? I’m also curious why you didn’t fire Kacey after it was discovered she lied on her resume.
CSY: The Mediterranean seasons are always changing and it’s very unpredictable weather. There are always a few days when you’re not able to leave the dock and that’s typical on the Med. We experienced some really bad winds. But you see that Kacey got better.
When people ask why I didn’t let her go, there’s a lot they need to understand. I have to deal with the deck I’m dealt. If you’re dealt a deck of cards, that’s what you are playing. I don’t get to change my cards.
SHW: Since we mentioned Captain Lee at the top of the interview and I always see him commenting on Twitter, I was curious – as were fans Aja Robinson, Victoria Gibbs and Cassie Townsend – if you know him personally.
CSY: Yes, I’ve met Captain Lee and we get along. He’s great!
Below Deck Mediterranean airs on Bravo Tuesday nights at 9 PM ET.