She may be mellow and calm, but don’t let the name fool you – she’s not here to put you to bed. And just because you are on a Bravo reality show doesn’t mean you need to flip a table, right? She’s a refreshingly calm energy on Below Deck: Mediterranean, a far cry from captains of previous seasons. With more than 27 years of yachting experience, Captain Sandy Yawn has led charters from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Being only one of few female captains in the yachting industry, she’s surpassed the stereotypes and conquered nearly every imaginable obstacle at sea, from being chased down by pirates on the Red Sea (Google it, seriously) to containing major fires on board. This year, she’s set her sights on Croatia as captain of the Ionian Princess on the new season of the show. We caught up with Captain Sandy in rare form – on land – to discuss past and present charters, and how she plans on bringing her impressive track record to the show.
You come across very tranquil and serene on the show. What is your secret?
Oh my god, I’m a fish. I think it’s being on the water. And also, I am that happy gene, and I’m not insecure. I’m happy with who Sandy is. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone because, hey, I almost died a few times, and I want to live the rest of my life, in my life. You know what I mean? I create my own experience, and I believe in people. The serenity for me is about being in my own skin, being myself and not trying to prove anything to anyone. Instead, it’s getting behind people and giving that little push.
Is being comfortable being Sandy something that comes natural to you, or is that something that you learned through the traumatic experiences you’ve had while being a captain?
When I was young, it was never easy. I got into drugs and alcohol and, you know, I was a mess. And then at 25, I changed my life. So I was not sure who to impress or if I had what it took, and I realized to just be yourself. Plus, I have a drive; I have an internal drive where I want to be a better person. Everyday I wake up and I don’t think about what I can get out of the world, but I think about what I can give to the world.
How do you deal with being the captain of such a dramatic crew?
When it comes to the crew, it’s like, ‘I can’t solve your internal problem, personality wise, between you people.’ That’s not my job. My job is to make sure this machine runs smoothly. So when it comes to personality conflicts, if they’re irresolvable between the person – or two people – I can’t resolve that. So I usually get rid of the person complaining.
Which crewmember did you have the toughest time with this season?
In the beginning, Hannah [Chief Stew]. But I’m not below deck so I don’t see everything. I think there was a bit of a challenge with Bobby [Deckhand] a couple times, but he listens. The one thing I have to say about him is he’s really open-minded, and he understands that if he wants to advance in his career, he can’t just shout out and say what’s on his mind. And for Hannah, I think that she just needs to take a step back and see that it’s not all about her. When you’re leading people, it’s not about ‘I’m this and you’re that. And screw you.’ It’s about ‘We’re in each other’s lives for a short time, let’s make this incredible.’ There’s life lessons in working on a yacht, just like in any job. We just happen to be really lucky because we’re on the ocean.
Being a female captain, can you describe some of the stereotypes that you have overcome?
When you get to the countries where women are just supposed to have babies – that still exists – and I take over a boat and there happens to be a guy from Poland or some other country, it’s such a struggle – for them, not for me. So I’ll usually walk into the engine room and name everything in the engine room. I go, ‘I just want you to know that I’m very knowledgeable in the engine room,’ and I start naming equipment. And then I have a coffee with them, I talk to them, I engage with them. I don’t need to prove anything to them because I’m confident in my ability to be captain. I’ve been there. I’ve had fires. I’ve been chased by pirates. I’ve had almost-sinkings at sea. I’ve had every scenario one can imagine happen. But guess what, I’m still driving boats.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who is in a position or career that is dominated by a certain sex or orientation?
Don’t think of it as male or female, or sex preference. Think of it as your job, and be that role. Just do your job. Because the reality is, people only respect people who respect themselves and know how to do their job. I don’t walk in and go, ‘I’m female, I happen to have a girlfriend, or whatever.’ I walk in going, ‘I’m a yacht captain. I have a job. I’m going to do my job.’ I don’t take it personally.
For those seeking opulence, what does the modern luxury yacht look like?
A super yacht is about what amenities do they have. It’s like a five star hotel. You have the amenities, and there’s a masseuse on board; that’s something that’s a specialty thing. The chef – what is his culinary experience? Most yachts have the best of the best in the world, from the cabins to the sheets. But luxury can be for any income, not just the wealthy. They have smaller boats that you can charter in the Bahamas or the Caribbean. You don’t have to have the super yacht luxury experience. You will have that experience, but it just won’t be on that level.
And for those who are strictly on a tight budget, what would you recommend?
I can’t speak on the cruise line side; I’ve always been on super yachts. I can always just say that there are cruises you can take on yachts that are the same price as a cruise ship. And that can be tailored to your experience. So, say a [yacht] cruise is $5,000 for a week. You could find a boat and get eight or ten friends to go together, and pay $5,000 for the week, divided by ten people. You know what I mean?
We sure do, and we’ll take exotic Mediterranean over Royal Caribbean any day. Catch Below Deck: Mediterranean Tuesdays at 9/8c on Bravo. V
by Kevin Schmidt