“Wake up. Show up. Kick ass. Repeat.”
This is the daily mantra for Capt. Sandy Yawn, who millions of TV viewers see on Below Deck Mediterranean—which third season premieres on Bravo on Tuesday, May 15 at 9 p.m. EST. It’s the mantra she wants her crew to live by, too. No wonder she’s earned the nickname "Badass Captain."
For Yawn, “badass” is anything but negative. She’s a trailblazer in an overwhelmingly male-dominated occupation. She’s run yachts well below and well above 100 feet. Facing daunting professional and personal adversities made her even more determined to succeed. And, she’s intent on treating people the way she wants to be treated. Ultimately, as her mantra says, she wants both her crew and viewers at home to push themselves for the better.
Interesting enough, Yawn didn’t envision a maritime career nearly three decades ago. “I fell into it,” she explains. “It’s not like I said, ‘I have to be a yacht captain.’” Growing up in Florida, she cleaned boats as an early job. She later landed her first yacht crew position. The captain, though, wasn’t good at his job, Yawn says. Instead of turning her off to yachting, it convinced her she could do better. Perhaps that’s what led her to the owner of a subsequent 67-footer. He not only hired her, but paid for her to earn her captain’s license. Yawn worked for him and his family for nearly a decade.
Not that everything went smoothly from that point onward. In 2004, Yawn helmed a 131-footer, delivering the yacht to Dubai through the Red Sea. Stormy seas kicked up, complicated by the hydraulics and one engine soon failing. Yawn and her crew managed to pull into an island off Yemen for repairs. Unbeknownst to them, they’d entered a military zone. Gunboats quickly surrounded them. Thankfully, they convinced the military of the facts, and their intention to leave when repairs were finished.
Five days later, with repairs done, they did leave. But, less than an hour later, the electronics went south, and a fireball suddenly ripped through the engine room. The crew leapt into action as a team, extinguishing the fire quickly, and preventing injuries. Yawn radioed a nearby U.S. warship, which brought her and the crew onboard and towed the yacht to safety. All the while, Yawn’s crew attests, she remained level headed and calm. That greatly impacted, and influenced, them. In 2006, they all received the Distinguished Crew Award from the International Superyacht Society.
Yawn has faced other significant challenges, too—in a short span, no less. In February 2015, a car hit her while riding her motorcycle to Miami from Fort Lauderdale. Numerous broken bones kept her in the hospital. A friend with connections there asked a doctor to check on her recovery. A seemingly routine scan revealed a tumor on her kidney. Surgery to remove it succeeded, for which Yawn is doubly thankful. The tumor turned out to be cancerous.
The last thing you might expect after all this is for a TV show to come calling. In June 2015, the Below Deck production team invited Yawn to appear in a new series set in the Mediterranean. “I thought, ‘Why not?’” she recalls. This, despite criticisms among some in the yachting industry about Below Deck. In contrast, Yawn firmly believes yachting enjoys a greater profile due to it. “This show reaches the middle of America and people who knew nothing about charter,” she points out. She adds that on three different occasions, people have stopped her to relate their first-time experiences. Each time, they’ve credited Below Deck with educating them about the opportunity.
Yawn appreciates how unusual her job as a captain is, and treasures it. The hours are long, and the work isn’t easy, but “we work in the greatest industry,” she says. “I tell the crew, ‘How great is that? Some billionaire trusts you to run his boat and take care of his guests.’”
She also appreciates how Below Deck affords her a profile to do more. She shares her passions via her social media channels. Yawn is a longtime ardent supporter of the Florida-based Jacksonville School of Autism, for example. Ocean conservation is important, too. She sits on the International SeaKeepers Society’s captain’s council, and runs a vessel for Sea Shepherd.
Equally important, Yawn recently launched a motivational-speaking tour, dubbed “I Believe.” She’s motivated to inspire people from all walks of life. “Below Deck gave me a gift: I get to be in front of millions of people,” she explains. “How do I give that back?”
Easy: Wake up. Show up. Kick ass. Repeat.
Remember to tune in this coming Tuesday, May 15 at 9 p.m. EST on BravoTV to catch the season three premiere of Below Deck Mediterranean—and don't forget to find out more about the show's impact on the yachting industry in The 'Below Deck' Effect.
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