Captain Sandy Yawn has been at the helm of Below Deck Mediterranean for six seasons, but this month, she's setting sail with a new partner: Chips Ahoy! In celebration of the brand's 60th birthday, Captain Sandy has invited two lucky fans and their friends aboard a yacht for an unforgettable cruise around Miami. The immersive experience includes cookie-shaped water floaties, Chips Ahoy! ice cream sandwiches, a live DJ, and, in an alcohol-free twist on the yachties' preferred night-off drink, espresso martini mocktails.
Sandy's participation in the Chips Ahoy! Happiest Birthday Sweepstakes caps a busy year for the maritime trailblazer. In 2022, she steered motor yacht Home through Malta on Below Deck Med and filled in for Below Deck stalwart Captain Lee Rosbach after he left the boat, St. David, due to health concerns. Sandy remained on board for the majority of Below Deck Season 10, but her tenure was dramatic from the jump: She clashed with chief steward Fraser Olender and ended up firing two members of his interior team, Camille Lamb and Alissa Humber.
"When you step into something, you never want to come in with a heavy hammer," she tells Primetimer of her experience aboard St. David. "Most captains come with their crew. Filling in for Captain Lee was challenging, and at the same time, you never want to really disrupt the program, but there was no program. So, to be able to find and motivate people who came over here for one reason — to provide a level of service to a client — let's try to do that."
As the season aired on Bravo, Lee disapproved of the way Sandy handled the firings (he felt she should have called him before she let his staff go, rather than after the fact), and the two traded jabs on social media. Months later, Sandy and Lee still haven't discussed the situation privately. "He hasn't called me back. I've tried him a few times. But that's fine," Sandy reveals. "You don't call a captain to see if you can fire a crew member, you know what I mean? You're the captain. You decide. What I did do was give him the courtesy after. But I like Camille — she was funny. She made me laugh."
Sandy isn't concerned with criticism, whether it's from Captain Lee or fans of the show. For years, she's been accused of playing favorites with the deck crew and micromanaging her chief stewards (notably Hannah Ferrier) and chefs, but she lets these comments roll off her back. "It's really interesting when your life is filmed in the role of a job. You look back and you go, 'Wow, I can improve here; I can improve there,'" she says. "But the one thing I do everyday in my life is wake up and say, 'How can I be better? How can I serve better? How can I be less selfish and more selfless?'"
"When I watched myself on the show, I thought, 'Oh wow, maybe I'll pause a minute, think about it.' It's all about the pause before you share something," she adds. "There are times when you're a human being and you have– you get upset, you're going to fire back. Over the years, of course I've wanted to improve on my character as a human being, be more kind, but I don't really have any regrets. Mean tweets are mean tweets — I don't really care. Those people don't know me, so I don't really respond."
In terms of what's next for Sandy, the captain isn't allowed to divulge any specific details about Below Deck Med Season 8, which is expected to premiere later this year. However, she teases that it will be "the typical Below Deck experience" filled with "personality conflicts" and "love affairs and constant breakups and meltdowns," set against a beautiful backdrop.
Sandy is also looking ahead to the 10th anniversary of Below Deck on July 1. "Honestly, Bravo's done an incredible thing by airing the show. It has shown millions of Americans there are jobs in the maritime industry," she says of the franchise's legacy. What does Sandy hope to see in the show's next decade on television? "Maybe a Below Deck School," she suggests. "That could be cool."
"Just to keep it going is incredible," Sandy explains. "I think the show offers so many different experiences for people that watch it. I get a lot of, 'Oh my god, I love your leadership.' For me, it's all about leadership with the fans and how I handle the crew and how kind I am, which is really nice when you hear that. So, obviously I wrote a book because the fans wanted it and it's all about leadership. I feel like being on TV, I have a responsibility to the viewers, and that's to show up as a good human being, help another person, and do my very best."
Sandy hopes to bring that positive attitude to Chips Ahoy!'s sweepstakes. The Bravo star says the 60th birthday celebration was "an automatic match" given her experience on the high seas — not to mention her sweet tooth. "It's so fitting because I've been eating those cookies my entire life," Sandy, who describes herself as "a child at heart," tells Primetimer. "When I was a kid, I used to count how many chocolate chips were in my cookies compared to my brother's and sister's."
Though the promise of chocolate chip cookies drew her to the event initially (she prefers the brand's original flavor, for what it's worth), Sandy is excited about meeting the winners and driving "a vessel that's wrapped with Chips Ahoy!" livery around Miami. "Sometimes it's hard, but the reality is, I go to work on a boat," she says. "I have the best job on the planet."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.