For anyone who’s watched Below Deck Mediterranean, the name Captain Sandy will be familiar. For those who don’t know her, you should.
Being a female captain in a male-dominated field and an out lesbian provides her with an inimitable perspective in leadership as powerful and vast as the oceans she pilots mega-yachts across. Rich in stories and lessons, the captain’s book, Be the Calm or Be the Storm is out now.
Stephen King said, “Good writing is a delight to those who read it and a mystery to those who write it.” What was it that inspired you to write this book?
Captain Sandy Yawn: Honestly, the fans. I never in my life thought about writing a book until when I became a captain. I was just in this mode of advancing in my career, and then when I got on Below Deck, people noticed my leadership style, and they’re like, “Oh my God, I watch your show for leadership tips. I feel like your show teaches me so much. When are you coming out with a leadership book?” That type of thing happened for about three years. Then in the fourth year, I had a book agent approach me and say, “Hey, why not write a book?” That is the why, it’s because of the fans. So, I thought, okay, let’s do it.
You share so many personal and professional stories in your book. If you could choose one lesson that you really want others to take away from your book, what would that be?
CS: Learning the art of self-leadership. Self-leadership, because in order to lead others you need to know how to lead yourself first, right? So that means making sure that you’re in fit mental condition to be able to lead a team. If you’re not, it’s difficult to lead. I think learning self-leadership in every capacity, mental, physical, and spiritual, for those who believe, is critical.
Your actions, if you don’t learn to check yourself and check your ego at the door, will always backfire on you. I have to walk out of my cabin, I’ll speak for myself as a whole person, mentally, spiritually, and physically fit for me to be able to lead with empathy, kindness, and keeping my eye on the ball. Keeping that definitive line between what is the job, and what is compassion, and what is the line for them not to cross. It’s that art of self-leadership. That one, I will hope they take away from my book.
Be the Calm or Be the Storm: You come across as the “calm” now, but what did you learn by being the “storm?”
CS: Oh, it is not effective. When you have a fire, it takes three things to have a sustainable fire, the ignition, the substance that is burning, and oxygen that keeps it burning. If you remove one of those things from that triangle the fire goes out. So, what is the “storm” in that triangle? Is it my mouth that keeps running?
Do I just need to pause and close it and let some air in? Also, every time I’m at sea and I’m in a violent wave, it’s all about my approach to that wave. It’s like that in life, rise 30,000 feet, look at which way you need to approach the wave or the storm or whatever it is. Take the approach that’s going to be more effective.
For me I had to learn that through my experiences of building my character. Being a part of the storm, that never worked for me. I learned very fast how to not do that and remain calm, pause, and remove that oxygen. Sometimes being quiet, just not talking and taking a moment, is all it needs. I always have a takeaway, no matter how bad it is. I always have a takeaway from any place or anything I’ve ever done. I find the glass is half full. I take away some learning. That is a point for me, what’s the takeaway and sometimes that’s just never to do that again!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book?
CS: Yes, in my book I share that I’ll hire for character over skill every time. You can teach a skill, but character is from the inside. It comes from your own learning. That’s where the self-leadership comes from, and having these opportunities to build on character, is crucial. I always say to my crew on board, it’s easy to do a good job when everything is going your way, you’re all happy and smiling and counting your cash. It’s when it starts to fall apart that you don’t fall apart. That you stay consistent in your delivery, in your kindness, and how you deal with each other.
That’s how we show up for each other as a team. I sit down with my team, and I get to know them, I get to know them personally, because I want to know who’s going to be the one responsible for saving my life.
On Below Deck, you see your crew off ship, on their off time, and see some individuals that your heart goes out to because you can see that they may have an addiction. Do you put on your “sponsor hat” or have conversations, sharing your years of experience being sober and in recovery?
CS: Yes I do, but I still keep on my captain’s hat. I talk to them as a person. Even as a captain, I think those who watch the show see that I talk to people how I want people to talk to me. I don’t come across as a hammer. I think you get more from people if you treat them like people and not like “I expect you to do your job”; it’s about interpersonal relationships and working on that. For me, when I see someone struggling and really desperate, that’s when I reach out the hand and say, “Hey, you are not alone. Here’s how I did it, this is who I used to be, and this is what I did to change it, and this is what I continue to do to stay away from it.”
I’m an open book. I want people to see me living my life beyond my wildest dreams, because of the choices I make in my life. Sometimes people need to feel like someone believes in them. To just give them the opportunity to change. Someone did that for me, and I want to continue paying it forward.
You’ve mentioned that you’re living your best life, what would you have said to your 12-year-old self?
CS: Addiction took over when I was 13 and I had to get a job to live my life and to pay for my fines. I got sober at 25 so I would tell my 12-year-old self, you are going to go through things that are not easy. You are going to make decisions that are not good for yourself. But know you are going to get through this. Just stay true to your course.
I had to go through everything I went through to define my character, to strengthen my resolve because I was a mess. I had the parents that people across the world have; they were just trying to survive themselves. It wasn’t the perfect household; it was an addiction household and I had to learn survival skills. Addiction ran in my family and it took hold of me. I believe if I didn’t have that addiction gene, given who my parents were, I still would have done well in school, because I was fascinated by science.
Even today, history and science are my thing. I love watching the History Channel and love watching new discoveries in science. That’s my brain, and I think I would have been a scientist.
You got together with your partner, Leah, in 2019, is that right?
CS: 2018 because I just saw the Christmas ornament and it was for the day we kissed: Nov. 18, 2018.
Were you in lockdown together?
CS: We weren’t living together, but we were in lockdown. We had a blast. We were living in Colorado, and there’s so many outdoor places. We had a great time, and we took advantage of the quiet and the calm.
How did Bravo find out about you? Were you familiar with Below Deck before they approached you?
CS: They approached me, and I wasn’t sure I was going to do the show, because I wasn’t sure it was good for my career. But then I thought it landed in my lap, so why not. I had never watched it. I had heard about it, and the industry hated it then, but now they get it. Life is good, I’m glad that I said yes.
You get to share your perspective, which is certainly unique and exciting. What were you doing when you got the call to take over for Captain Lee?
CS: It was the day before Valentine’s Day, and I had plans with Leah, and we were going to have an awesome, romantic time and then I got the call. I looked at Leah and you know you want to be there for someone. She also had some surgery planned and I was told it was only going to be a couple of weeks. She understood. I went, and it ended up being longer than that. I said, I’m sorry I can’t stay and bought my ticket home. I told the producers, I’m leaving on this day, so you have to figure it out. The timing worked out because Captain Lee had been working hard at getting better, to come back and thankfully, he got the approval he needed, and he came back.
I found it rather ironic that your first charter for Captain Lee was a lesbian couple celebrating a birthday.
CS: And I’m sitting right in front of their house in my car because we became friends, and I just love them. Jane and Gigi, oh my God, they are incredible. I have to tell you a little story. When I approached that boat, I was like, man that sucker’s big and whoa, that’s a thousand tons. The wind was at 27 knots, I was told the bow thrusters were at half capacity if it even works. I’m thinking how am I going to get this boat off the dock? It’s a very narrow channel, as you can see on the show, the turning basin wasn’t very big, and there’s a rock at a certain spot. I’m hearing all this stuff and as the cameras are on me, I know they are wondering if I’m going to get this off the dock or not.
This is running through my mind with a gold medal tennis champion behind me watching every step I make. I thought, millions of people watched her. She couldn’t just not hit the ball. She had to go out, hit the ball. You’ve got to take this boat off the dock, Sandy. There’s a champion standing behind you that’s a woman, who has changed the lives of so many of us, so I did it. She had no idea what she did for me by standing behind me. How many people out there have inspired other people and they never knew they did that?
If you could speak to someone living or dead, who would it be and what would you say?
CS: Oh, I’m going to cry. My mom. You know being a captain, you’re away. I was away. I wasn’t there. She passed away while I was in Barcelona on a boat at a boat show when she was in the hospital. I’d say, it would be to her, saying I would come, and I would just leave. Leave Barcelona and come to see her.
Being an outspoken lesbian is so important to our community. Any words of advice for our readers?
CS: Be true to yourself. Be kind to yourself. It’s ok to love someone of the same sex. It’s okay, God loves you, we love you. It’s okay.
Sandy’s book, Be the Calm or Be the Storm, was released on Jan. 10, 2023.