Over the course of 7 seasons of Below Deck Mediterranean, we’ve seen a lot of things, but never a yachtie with forged documents trying to work a full charter season. In the Season 8 premiere of show, Captain Sandy Yawn encounters this perplexing issue with her Bosun Ruan Irving. Their first meeting is pleasant and uneventful. She sits down with him on the bridge and looks over his resume. “I like that you have this 200-ton yacht master, that’s good,” says Captain Sandy approvingly. “Tender driving in 10-to-15-foot swells,” she continues, impressed, “That’s awesome.” “As a bosun, leading people is really important, so let’s see how your leadership skills are,” Captain Sandy finishes. At this point in time, Ruan seems up to the task.
In a confessional to the camera, Ruan explains: “I’ve been bosun for about three years now. I’m from a small town in South Africa. There wasn’t much opportunity growing up there.” Ruan continues: “There’s that saying ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’ because that’s where you grow. I ran away from home super young, dropped out of school at 16, grew up in an abusive household.” I know where I’ve come from and I know where I want to go,” Ruan finishes with a lingering stare into the camera, saying, “I have to take my shit seriously.”
Since the Mustique weighs in at 989 gross tons, it is classified as a commercial built vessel. “It’s solid, it’s steel, it’s heavy,” Captain Sandy explains, adding, “we’re in a whole different ball game now.” A yacht of this size and its crew in a highly regulated port like Genoa, Italy are under much more scrutiny. Before Captain Sandy and the crew can start the charter season, an MCA inspector comes aboard to make sure everything is in order to ensure the “safe operation of the vessel.” As the MCA inspector looks over all the paperwork, he notices that neither Ruan’s ENG medical certificate nor his Yachtmaster status are certified copies like the rest of his documents appear to be.
As Ruan is called to the bridge, he explains that all his yachting documents are “certified copies by the police station” and the originals are secured in a friend’s safe back in South Africa. Ruan starts to say that he can see if his friend can send the documents along, but the MCA inspector scolds him and warns that “the reality is you should always have the originals…the boat can be detained for that.” When Sandy and Chief Officer Nikola tell Ruan that he needs to get the originals to the port as fast as possible, Ruan is visibly flustered and begins to make excuses: “My life’s a bit tricky. I don’t really have parents so my car is at one friend’s house and this is that friend’s house. I’ve been in France for 8 years straight. I’ve been in South Africa for 3 months in the last 8 years.” Unmoved, the MCA officer gives Ruan and Captain Sandy the standard 5 days to confirm that all Ruan’s yachting documents are valid or else they’ll have to find another Bosun.
Ruan goes on deck and vents to his team: “For the 8 years I’ve been working on yachts, I’ve never taken my original certificates on board with me. I’ve got certified copies. Now the guy says they need the originals.” As deckhand Luka Brunton listens to him, a bit baffled, he shrugs and says, “yeah, I’ve always just taken my originals with me.” After watching Luka finish up the season on Below Deck Down Under, it was clear that he was a competent and capable lead deckhand. If warning bells weren’t going off in your head already, they should be now.
Later, when Ruan receives a phone call out of nowhere about the death of his best friend, Luka is there to comfort him. “He’s the only friend I’ve known that’s been through everything with me,” Ruan says through tears. “He had a head-on collision with a bus…I feel like I’m going to pass out,” Ruan cries. Luka rubs his back and helps him downstairs. The next morning, Ruan tearfully gets ready in his cabin. As he mourns his friend, he says to the camera in his confessional: “I don’t even know where’s my head’s at. I’ve lost someone who means so much to me.”
As Ruan prepares his crew to leave the dock, Captain Sandy receives a phone call from the port authority. “We are just reviewing all the documents of the current guy you have on board,” says the official, referring to Ruan. “After reviewing them, I do have some additional questions. One document is specifically the Yachtmasters,” he continues. As Captain Sandy scans the Yachtmasters document she has, the official sends her the one he has in his possession, and there is someone else’s picture on Ruan’s certificate. A shocked Captain Sandy says to the camera: “This is major. This is a whole different level. This is not okay.” On the phone, Captain Sandy says incredulously to the official, “so the entire vessel could be arrested because of one crew member?”
With guests on board the ship, Captain Sandy listens to the official when he tells her that Ruan can’t remain on board. “You could get detained in port,” he warns. After thanking the man for bringing the issue to her attention, Captain Sandy jumps into action. She calls Ruan to the bridge where she confronts him with the new information she’s received. Ruan is shocked as she holds up the Yachtmasters certificate and tells him, “Who ever issued this… it’s not yours. It’s this other guy.”
Captain Sandy then begins to question Ruan. “Where did you go to school?” “On one of the boats ’cause the ticket expired, and we needed to get a ticket done quickly,” Ruan stammers. “The guy came on the boat and issued us our tickets.” “To get this, you need to go to class,” Captain Sandy interrupts him, gesturing to his Yachtmasters document. “Did you go to school?” she asks incredulously. Clearly flustered, Ruan says, “yeah, yeah… pardon?” Fed up, Captain Sandy tells him he has to be honest with her. “If you didn’t go to a class…,” she begins. “I did, I promise you, in Monaco. I did my practical on a boat in Monaco,” Ruan replies lamely. “No, you can’t get your Yachtmasters on a boat in Monaco. They don’t have a school in Monaco,” says Captain Sandy, “it’s a big red flag.”
In his confessional, Ruan still feigns ignorance. “I’ve been on boats for 3 years with that same ticket. I swear to God the last thing on my mind was that the ticket was false,” he says to the camera shakily. As we cut back to Captain Sandy, she tells Ruan: “We are going to have to leave you at the dock. Let’s verify this. If it’s verified then a tender will bring you to the boat. If it isn’t verified, I can’t bring you back on board.” Wisely, Ruan leaves her office quietly to go collect his things and leave the vessel. To the camera, Captain Sandy confides: “I’m a factual person. I’m seeing what I see. Sometimes mistakes happen, but I’m kind of thinking this isn’t the case here.”
Knowing she’s in a horrible situation having to start the season without her Chief Stew and Bosun, Captain Sandy alerts her staffer Norma that they need a new Bosun and calls Luka to her office. She brings Luka up to speed on the Ruan situation and asks him to step up as her interim Bosun. Luka (with his impeccable CV) jumps at the opportunity. Bolstered by a recommendation from Captain Sandy’s friend Captain Jason Chambers, she’s confident he is up to the task.
As Ruan says his goodbyes to the deck crew and tells everyone he’ll be back, Luka remains skeptical. “For someone to show up to a yacht without original certificates is very weird. Like, if you get pulled over by the cops and you show them a photocopy version of your license…what do you think they’re gonna do,” Luka asks the camera. As deckhands Lara Du Preez and Haleigh Gorman ask Luka for clarification as to why Ruan’s leaving, Luka is unable to give them a straight answer because Ruan’s story and information keep changing. With the help of the Mustique’s First Officer, Luka and the ladies are about to get the yacht successfully off the dock.
Once the charter is in full swing, Captain Sandy receives a call from Ruan. “Sorry about this, Captain, but I don’t think I’m going to get the ticket sorted in time,” Ruan sheepishly tells her over the phone. “I don’t want to hold the vessel up any longer. I’m just going to go back home, and I don’t think I’m going to come back.” Unsurprised, Captain Sandy asks what he wants them to do with the original documents that are supposedly on their way to the yacht. “No, no, I stopped that because my friend who was going to send it is far away,” Ruan continues, “I’m deciding to call it quits and head back to South Africa.” In a classy move, Captain Sandy wishes him the best, knowing that her charter season could be ruined.
So was Ruan a yachtie grifter or was he the victim of a grift himself and realized it along with the rest of the world? We doubt we’ll ever seen him on our screens again, but he did make for some wild WTF television. Tune in next week to see how Captain Sandy, Luke and the crew of the Mustique can fare without him.
Below Deck Mediterranean Season 8 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.