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After Living Much of Life at Sea, Captain Sandy Finds Love on Land

After Living Much of Life at Sea, Captain Sandy Finds Love on Land


Sandra Dolores Yawn has been locked up, left for dead on a Florida freeway and chased by means of the Red Sea by pirates.

In the summer time of 2018, Leah Rae Shafer reached out on Facebook to ship Ms. Yawn her blessings. Not as a result of she thought Ms. Yawn, who goes by Captain Sandy, wanted her effectively needs, however as a result of she had began watching “Below Deck Mediterranean” on Bravo.

The present follows a crew tasked with catering to a revolving cadre of company who’ve chartered a superyacht. Ms. Yawn, a star of the sequence, is on the helm. Ms. Shafer had written to congratulate her on the present’s success. There was another excuse, too. “I believed she was scorching,” she mentioned.

Ms. Yawn, 59, has been a yacht captain for greater than 30 years. Her foray into tv, which began in 2017, was not precisely foreordained. Until her mid-20s, “I used to be a large number,” Ms. Yawn mentioned. “I used to be all the time in hassle. I acquired kicked out of eleventh grade. I didn’t go to school.” At 13, at the beginning of an adolescence spent between Dundee, Fla., the place her father lived, and Bradenton, Fla., the place her mom lived, she began ingesting. By 17, “I used to be getting arrested so many occasions I couldn’t even rely what number of,” she mentioned. Usually a father or mother bailed her out. Her father’s refusal to take action after one drunken incident landed her an evening in jail.

In 1989, when she was 25, the revolving door of South Florida therapy facilities she had been pushing by means of stop spinning when a counselor informed her she couldn’t return. “She mentioned, ‘Sandy, as quickly as you get some cash in your pocket you’re going to start out ingesting once more,’” Ms. Yawn mentioned.

Fearing actual jail time, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous. To begin paying off the 1000’s of {dollars} she owed in authorized charges and dependancy therapy middle payments, she acquired a job washing boats in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. By 30, she had earned her captain’s license from Maritime Professional Training, a faculty in Fort Lauderdale for mariners and yachting professionals.

Rehab — she nonetheless has an A.A. sponsor and attends conferences every time doable — helped her pin down the roots of her teenage revolt. “I believe a giant a part of my ingesting was that I couldn’t settle for my sexuality,” she mentioned. “When I acquired sober is once I accepted that, oh my gosh, I really desire girls.”

For Ms. Shafer, that degree of acceptance took for much longer. It additionally price her a profession as a gospel singer.

Ms. Shafer, 50, is the entrepreneur behind a skincare line, Skin by Leah, and a jewellery enterprise began with a pal, Cuff Me. When she messaged Ms. Yawn to congratulate her on the success of “Below Deck Mediterranean” in 2018, she and her husband of 20 years, then residing with their teenage daughter in Denver, have been going by means of a divorce. The relationship had gone stale years earlier, Ms. Shafer mentioned, however concern and uncertainty prevented her from leaving.

“I had the safety of not worrying financially, as a result of he took care of every thing,” she mentioned. Her gospel profession at a nondenominational church had taken off when she was nonetheless in highschool in Hesperia, Calif. But that was principally a labor of affection.

“I toured and went to school on the identical time,” mentioned Ms. Shafer, who graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a bachelor’s diploma in liberal arts.

By her 30s, she was recording albums, touring megachurches and singing at main Christian conferences. A flirtation with secular efficiency within the 2000s landed her on the 2003-04 revival of “Star Search” and later a recurring position on NBC’s “The Singing Bee.”

But “I liked God and I liked inspiring folks, and the platform I used to be given was on the stage of church buildings,” she mentioned. The solely drawback: “There was actually no cash in that.”

Before their divorce was remaining in 2019, she and her husband tried remedy and prayed collectively. Finally, in 2018, “I simply jumped,” she mentioned. “I took a leap of religion. I needed freedom.”

She discovered it financially first. Skin by Leah Studio, her Lone Tree, Colo. facial salon that she based in 2017, was profitable straight away, she mentioned. When she first noticed Ms. Yawn on TV, she was settling into life as an entrepreneur. She didn’t count on to get a response to her Facebook message. But when she acquired one three months later, in October 2018, it got here with an invite.

In addition to her job as a TV star, Ms. Yawn had began touring with “I Believe,” a sequence of motivational talks she created to encourage girls in management positions. When she lastly learn Ms. Shafer’s message — 1000’s had been piling up, she mentioned, however one thing drew her to Ms. Shafer’s — she was out there for an entertainer for the talks.

In her message, Ms. Shafer had included a video of herself singing the nationwide anthem at a 2014 Denver Broncos recreation. Once Ms. Yawn clicked the hyperlink, she replied straight away. “She gave me her telephone quantity and mentioned, ‘I heard you sing,’” Ms. Shafer mentioned. “‘Let’s meet up and discuss how we will do one thing collectively.’”

The two continued to speak on the telephone and over electronic mail. Ms. Yawn was then residing in Los Angeles. Ms. Shafer had been planning a Disneyland trip together with her daughter, Lauren, in November, a visit that gave her an excuse to satisfy Ms. Yawn in particular person.

Both say they fell in love seconds after Ms. Shafer pulled into Ms. Yawn’s driveway in mid-November 2018. “I supplied to park her automobile for her, and that’s after we hugged,” Ms. Yawn mentioned. “I felt this power I had by no means felt. I knew I had to concentrate to that.”

It was a life-changing hug for Ms. Shafer, too. “It was not a standard feeling once I met Sandy,” she mentioned. “She wasn’t the strict captain you see on TV. She was simply so enjoyable and so lovely. That hug melted me.”

Over dinner at Catch, a Los Angeles seafood restaurant, they acknowledged their attraction. “I used to be actually trustworthy together with her,” Ms. Yawn mentioned. But Ms. Shafer wasn’t able to date a lady. “I knew I needed to be together with her,” she mentioned. “I used to be simply freaked out.”

By the tip of the night, Ms. Yawn informed her she ought to take her time. It had been two years since Ms. Yawn’s final relationship. “So at that time I used to be like, ‘Why rush it?’” she mentioned. “I used to be older and I’ve realized lots of classes. One was, let issues occur naturally. Slow and regular wins the race.”

Six months later, the race was over. The girls have been in a dedicated relationship, and Ms. Yawn had moved to a spot close to Ms. Shafer’s in Denver. It was easy crusing till the tip of 2019, when information of the couple’s relationship began circulating in leisure media.

The public outing ended Ms. Shafer’s gospel profession. “I knew the minute I got here out as being in love with a lady it might be over, and it was,” she mentioned. Her six CDs, offered in dozens of church bookstores, have been pulled from cabinets and shipped to her doorstep. Christian radio stations stopped enjoying her music.

“I had labored for 35 years,” she mentioned. “And it was over.”

Most painful of all have been feedback after her father’s loss of life from Covid in 2020. “People within the church informed me he died due to my sins,” she mentioned. “But he had met and are available to just accept Sandy earlier than he handed, and I thank God that occurred.” Now, “my household adores Sandy.”

Ms. Yawn misplaced each her dad and mom to coronary heart assaults earlier than she turned a TV star — her father in 2006, and her mom in 2009. In 2015, she was en path to the Miami Boat Show on her bike when she was hit by a automobile. The driver left the scene. “I felt my mom’s presence whereas I used to be flipping by means of the air, and I felt peaceable,” she mentioned.

When she hit the pavement, she had a fractured pelvis and her foot “was on sideways,” she mentioned. By then, although, she was used to navigating life and loss of life situations, together with fires at sea and run-ins with pirates. She credit her fortitude and empathy, qualities highlighted on “Below Deck Mediterranean,” which she joined in 2017, to her sobriety. “I’ve acquired nothing to cover and every thing to share,” she mentioned.

In 2022, Ms. Yawn and Ms. Shafer purchased a home collectively in Parker, Colo. In September 2023, whereas Ms. Yawn was filming in Greece, Ms. Shafer flew abroad to go to. Ms. Yawn proposed with a diamond engagement ring on the seashore, with violin gamers within the background.

Binge extra Vows columns right here and learn all our marriage ceremony, relationship and divorce protection right here.

On May 11, Ms. Shafer and Ms. Yawn have been married in Fort Lauderdale aboard She’s a ten Too, a superyacht lent to the couple by their pal Carolyn Aronson. Fifty-five company, the utmost allowed aboard the vessel, have been in attendance. Among them have been “Below Deck Mediterranean” castmates Aesha Scott, Kate Chastain and Dave White, identified to viewers as Chef Dave. (And sure, there have been cameras filming.)

Ms. Shafer, in an extended white marriage ceremony robe by Leah Da Gloria, walked down the aisle together with her two brothers to an altar embellished with white roses and hydrangeas; her daughter, now 18, was her maid of honor.

Ms. Yawn, in a white Veronica Beard go well with, was escorted down the aisle by John Flynn, a longtime pal who employed her for her first captain’s job in 1991. Michelle Dunham, Ms. Yawn’s sister, was her maid of honor. Neither bride wore sneakers. None of the company did, both — a standard yacht rule.

Nadine Rajabi, the showrunner of “Below Deck Mediterranean,” who’s ordained by the Universal Life Church, married them on the yacht’s bridge aft deck, a job made harder by the climate: wind precipitated her microphone to chop out and blew the pages of her speech round. But nothing might disturb the main target of the brides and their company as they learn handwritten vows.

Ms. Shafer informed Ms. Yawn that she had taught her to be extra optimistic, extra playful and “to leap.” Ms. Yawn informed Ms. Shafer that she had given her endurance and beauty.

The captain had been hoping to make it by means of the ceremony freed from tears. But that, she mentioned shortly after they have been pronounced married, was not possible. “The minute I checked out Leah and began studying her all the explanations I fell in love together with her I began to cry,” she mentioned. “It’s so wonderful to seek out this type of love in your lifetime.”


When May 11, 2024

Where Aboard the superyacht She’s a ten Too, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Rescue Mission The couple selected “She’s a Lady” for his or her first dance throughout an onboard reception. Chef Dave ready quick ribs and a three-tiered, gluten-free vanilla, chocolate and strawberry cake that threatened to topple within the wind and warmth (temperatures have been within the 90s).

Cruising After the marriage, the brides took off for a five-day honeymoon to Little Palm Island on a yacht lent by Mr. Flynn. Ms. Yawn was on the helm, after all.

Onward In June, Ms. Yawn and Ms. Shafer will transfer from Denver to Ponte Vedra, Fla., to be nearer to Ms. Dunham, who runs a non-public college for kids with autism, Jacksonville School for Autism, in Jacksonville. On June 3, season 9 of “Below Deck Mediterranean” premieres on Bravo. And on July 1, Ms. Shafer will open a skincare studio in Ponte Vedra.

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