Before Captain Sandy Yawn joined the cast of Bravo's Below Deck franchise as the series' first female Captain, she rarely encountered women deckhands. But that's changed since 2017, when she first captained the Sirocco in season 2 of Below Deck Mediterranean.
"Outside the show, I never had female deckhands and I wondered why. I thought about it, and it was because that was never on their radar. No one ever applied for it," she told Refinery29. But now that more women have seen that it's possible to work on deck in the male-dominated field, "you're going to see a lot more women on deck in the industry as a whole." While Chief Stewardess Hannah Ferrier has returned every season, the rest of the deck crew typically turns over each year, with the occasional holdover. João Franco began as lead deckhand in season 3 and was promoted to Boson for season 4. Malia White spent her first-ever charter season on the deck of Sirocco in season 2, and has since worked her way up in the industry to return as boson on the Wellington in season 5.
It was a no-brainer to bring White back, Yawn said, particularly once she learned that White had earned her captain's license. And the leadership skills White has demonstrated so far this season are qualities Yawn noticed three years ago — despite the fact that White's most prominent story arc in season 2 was the fact that she kissed two different guys ("it's because she's a woman that she was called out," said Yawn).
"I love how she's a defuser," Yawn said of White's leadership skills. "Bravo's opened it up and the yacht world is embracing it, which I really love. There's a lot more women on deck now." Yawn says it makes her "heart happy" to have Malia back, and hopefully help her grow to become a captain "just like I did with João."
Franco is an interesting Below Deck success story both personally and professionally: He displayed misogynistic tendencies in his first season, but later spoke about how he was disappointed in his own behavior and was actively working to improve. And after starting as lead deckhand and being promoted to boson, Franco left the series to captain his own yacht. But per Yawn, White has more of a head start.
"Malia was never really lost like João. She just had a different agenda. And when she got her captain's license after the season we did together, it's like, Whoa. She's been working on 60 meter boats. She's done nothing but advance in her career. She's always on the bridge. And now I just want to teach her how to run 'em and drive 'em. She's already got the personnel part down."
One person White has already flex those skills with this year is lead deckhand Pete Hunziker, who was fired from the series last week after racist social media posts surfaced. (News of his firing broke after this interview with Yawn was conducted.) Only three episodes in and White has spoken with Hunziker multiple times about calling her, his superior, "sweetheart" and "sweetie." She's also had to admonish him for trying to instruct his less-experienced co-workers, rather than letting White do it.
"What happens a lot of times is the male ego takes over," Yawn said, and male deckhands say, "'I know that,' instead of just saying, 'You know what, I don't know that. Can you show me how?' That's all it takes. It doesn't make you less of a person. In fact, it makes you more of a person. Malia's been working on big yachts, so probably in the combined group of people there, Malia has more experience."
Yawn's mentorship and leadership styles are common sense-based, having seen what it's like to sail for a frustrating captain in her early career.
"I had a captain who never helped me. Never. The guy just smoked a cigarette and drove the boat. He didn't do anything to help me prep for it, to help me cover it up after the entire evening. I just thought, I would help my people. We all are there for the same amount of time," she says. "So I assist, because the big picture is I need rested with a good attitude. And when you help crew, it makes them want to do their job even better because they know their captain has their back."
And while that may help everyone progress professionally, nothing will keep the drama at bay on the long-running Bravo show.
Below Deck Mediterranean airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.