On Deck with Sandy Yawn

the new cap­tain in the Bravo se­ries ‘Be­low Deck Mediter­ranean’ speaks out on her yacht­ing ca­reer and her new gig as small-screen skip­per.

Yachts International - - On Charter - KW: Tell me more about this fourth wall. KW: How did they find you? KW: What if they don’t bring you back?

Sandy Yawn’s ca­reer on and around the wa­ter has spanned 27 years, mov­ing from earnest boat cleaner to widely re­spected cap­tain of yachts up to 157 feet. One of only a hand­ful of fe­male cap­tains in the in­dus­try, Yawn has seen her share of ad­ven­ture, from be­ing chased by pi­rates to con­tain­ing ma­jor fires on board.

Last year, Yawn’s ca­reer took a turn as she traded three di­men­sions for two when the pro­duc­ers of the Bravo tele­vi­sion net­work hired her on as cap­tain of 157-foot Heesen mo­to­ry­acht Sirocco for sea­son two of the se­ries “Be­low Deck Mediter­ranean.” She shared with Edi­tor-in-Chief Kenny Wooton some thoughts on her life, her new gig and what her fu­ture may bring.

Kenny Wooton: Yacht char­ter is the most ex­pen­sive hol­i­day peo­ple can buy. Some pro­fes­sion­als in the yacht­ing in­dus­try have com­plained that the “Be­low deck” fran­chise is not an ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of what lux­ury yacht char­ter is re­ally like. Are your crewmem­bers on “Be­low deck Mediter­ranean” the rau­cous, drink­ing and carous­ing types we saw on pre­vi­ous “Be­low deck” in­stall­ments?

Sandy Yawn: The yacht in­dus­try doesn’t re­ally want to hear the truth, but the truth is, as a yacht cap­tain run­ning char­ter boats, it’s a re­al­ity. The dif­fer­ence, in our pro­fes­sional world, is we make sure it stays be­low deck.

I’ve had crewmem­bers ar­rested, I’ve had crewmem­bers fight­ing, I’ve had crewmem­bers jump­ing over­board, I’ve had some psy­chotic crewmem­bers. I’ve al­ways thought we should de­velop a barge, put all the green crewmem­bers we’re go­ing to hire at sea, give them the worst con­di­tions, don’t feed them, de­prive them of sleep and see how they do emo­tion­ally. Oh, and add al­co­hol. The re­al­ity is, they make a lot of money re­ally fast, they’re very young and the first place they go is to the bar. Fa­tigue, starved for af­fec­tion, al­co­hol—it’s the mix­ture and it ex­ists.

Why I was so suc­cess­ful as a char­ter cap­tain all these years is I was the glue of the crew. I didn’t fire crew, be­cause the re­al­ity, for a char­ter cap­tain, is that it’s about im­press­ing the bro­kers and mak­ing sure their clients are happy. If you go through crew, you’re not a good char­ter cap­tain.

We give all the tip money right after the char­ter. We have one or two days’ turn­around. You can’t keep them prisoner. You have to let them go out and let go. Hon­estly, I don’t know if it’s go­ing to be any dif­fer­ent. I know my style of man­age­ment is very dif­fer­ent from the other cap­tains. I think, as a fe­male, we must have dif­fer­ent styles than our male coun­ter­parts.

KW: You’ve men­tioned be­fore, you be­lieve there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a boss and a leader.

It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause I got to see a lit­tle bit of what it could be and I am a leader. I am not a boss that just sits

there and tells peo­ple what to do. I grew up in yacht­ing work­ing as a crewmem­ber and my cap­tain never helped me, ever. He never al­lowed me on the bridge. He was very boss-like.

I was never like that. I was go­ing to help the last crewmem­ber make the last bed. I am not go­ing to bed un­til they go to bed. If I ex­pect them to per­form at all lev­els at all hours, al­ways with a smile, then I have to do the same thing. In my opin­ion, that’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween a boss and a leader.

KW: How does that ap­proach trans­late to the show?

You’re go­ing to see me re­ally get­ting into the mud with them. You can see me get­ting dirty, not giv­ing up. When we’re faced with chal­lenges, I’m go­ing to be right in the mid­dle of it.

KW: Talk about the tran­si­tion from be­ing a yacht cap­tain to a TV yacht cap­tain.

That was a tran­si­tion. I think a big part of it was hav­ing the cam­eras on you 24-7. They talk about the “fourth wall.” The cam­er­ap­er­son is not al­lowed to talk to us and we’re not al­lowed to con­verse with them so you don’t cre­ate a re­la­tion­ship. It’s al­most like they’re not there, which feels pretty bad. You want to ac­knowl­edge them and say “how are you” and get to know them.

It’s in­ter­est­ing, the fact that you have all these cam­eras in your face, you have peo­ple who are earmiked, so when you go to the bath­room, that can be a lit­tle odd.

That cre­ates a non-per­sonal re­la­tion­ship. Essen­tially, it’s like they disappear into the wall. You start do­ing your job and it starts to click. And you re­al­ize, wow, this is a real char­ter. This is re­ally hap­pen­ing. I’m ac­tu­ally go­ing to be on cam­era so I’d bet­ter look good.

It’s re­ally fun. You watch the pro­duc­tion side, and lo­gis­ti­cally, their lives are par­al­lel to our lives. The plan­ning, the sched­ul­ing, the lo­ca­tion, the weather, the scenery—for the clients and also for the film­ing.

They have a lot of chal­lenges and the boat has its chal­lenges. When some­thing doesn’t work well, it’s great footage for the cam­era crew.

Ac­tu­ally, through a friend who en­cour­aged me to ap­ply.

KW: Peo­ple won­der if the crew com­prises pro­fes­sion­als or ac­tors.

They’re def­i­nitely not ac­tors.

KW: What made you want to get into the yacht­ing busi­ness?

I fell into it, just like ev­ery other per­son who’s done it. I was wash­ing boats for a liv­ing. I grew up in Florida. I used to main­tain boats in my Jeep with my boat brush.

A yacht owner asked me if I wanted a job maintaining his 67 Hat­teras. That was the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer. [That owner] be­lieved in me and saw I was a hard worker. He taught me how to drive a boat. He sent me to school and I ended up work­ing for that fam­ily for nine years.

KW: More than two million peo­ple watched the sea­son one fi­nale last year. is it rea­son­able to as­sume you’ll end up a celebrity? Are you go­ing to end up be­ing a TV star, or will you go back to yacht­ing when it’s all over?

Yacht­ing grounds me. Peo­ple in this in­dus­try ground me. I love ev­ery boat show I get to see. I’m hop­ing it goes over well and I get to come back for the third sea­son.

If it doesn’t work out, I could be very happy go­ing back to sea. This is my pas­sion. If I do be­come a celebrity,

my fo­cus will be on autism. My sis­ter has a school [for autis­tic chil­dren] in Jack­sonville, Florida. I see how she ded­i­cated her life to it, and if there’s any­thing I want to get be­hind, it’s her school. And, of course, there’s SeaKeep­ers [In­ter­na­tional SeaKeep­ers So­ci­ety] be­cause I’m into the sea, the oceans. I’m on the cap­tains’ advisory coun­cil for SeaKeep­ers. I was a lost kid un­til some­one be­lieved in me. I was pretty aim­less. Some­one fi­nally said “You’re worth it,” and helped me up, and now I am where I am.

KW: What was the coolest thing that hap­pened dur­ing pro­duc­tion of the show?

The coolest thing was re­ally about all the clients—the in­ter­est­ing, di­verse set of clients.

I never in­ter­fered in the crew’s lives be­low deck, un­less it mi­grated above deck. I didn’t re­ally see the dis­as­ters. I’m sure I’ll see some things that are part of this show that will shock me. If you had a cam­era in the crew mess and the crew cab­ins, you would be shocked, even in the real char­ter world.

KW: What is the value of this show to the char­ter in­dus­try and yacht­ing in gen­eral? My ex­pe­ri­ence on the show was amaz­ing. Know­ing how many view­ers the yacht­ing in­dus­try is reach­ing is grat­i­fy­ing. The re­al­ity of this show is prob­a­bly the same as the other shows. Again, I’m not in­volved in their lives be­low deck, but things will hap­pen. They hap­pen in the real world.

Let’s think about how many char­ters we’re get­ting from the show and how many peo­ple we’re in­tro­duc­ing to the yacht world be­cause of it. The sea­son I’m on, I know, had four char­ters come from peo­ple watch­ing [pre­vi­ous] shows.

I think we work in the great­est in­dus­try in the world. We go to the most fas­ci­nat­ing places, we meet some of the most in­ter­est­ing peo­ple who own and char­ter these yachts. What other in­dus­try cre­ates that—peo­ple from all walks of life, from all back­grounds? It of­fers that and it of­fers me that.

Sandy Yawn in her ‘of­fice.’ Yawn is skip­per for sea­son two of the Bravo se­ries ‘Be­low Deck Mediter­ranean.’

Yawn ad­dresses the crew of Sirocco.

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