When Capt. Harold Lee Rosbach was in his mid-20s, he left the cold Midwest for the restaurant business in the Turks and Caicos Islands. When he was in his mid-30s, he left land itself to captain yacht charters. Now, Capt. Lee is chartering new territory as the center of the Bravo reality TV show Below Deck.
You grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. Did you get into boating there?
I didn’t have any exposure to boating in Michigan. The closest I came to any boating was fishing for perch on Saginaw Bay — in 12 feet of water. I left Michigan when I was 25 and never went back, except for visits. I just really enjoy the warm weather.
When did you first see the ocean?
When I went to Florida in the process of moving over to the Turks and Caicos. When I got into the restaurant business, I heard of a restaurant that needed some assistance in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and it seemed like a pretty good adventure to embark on — so I did.
What was your first job at sea?
I took a job as a delivery mate on a boat, and it just bit me hard. My first trip was on a sailboat just quietly gliding through the water and surrounded by the ocean. I saw the marine life coming up, the islands, and it was just mesmerizing and very calming. I thought, you know, you can actually get paid to do this for a living? When I finally came back from that delivery, I told the wife, “You know, I think it’s time for a career change.”
And then along came reality television. How did you come to be the focus of Bravo’s television show, Below Deck?
I think my whole life has been a series of accidents that have worked out well. I was actually a captain on a 50-meter Benetti and Bravo wanted to charter the Benetti for a new TV show called Below Deck. Bravo had its crew, captain, deckhands and stewardesses. It had everything it needed, and all I had to do was tag along and make sure the boat got taken care of. I was looking at a nice, paid vacation just hanging out in the islands, but because of a set of circumstances, Bravo’s captain was unable to fulfill his obligations. Bravo said, “Well, why don’t we let Lee do it and see how he feels about being on TV?”
The title for the first season’s trailer is “Drama on the high seas.” Is that what daily life is like for these charters?
We hire young, attractive people to work in close quarters in an environment that can be very stressful. They have a lot of pressure on them because when they’re catering to millionaires and billionaires, they need to get it right. Their workday is very long — usually 14 to 16 hours — and there aren’t many breaks. There are no days off until the charter is over, so there is a lot of stress. And are they going to act up in some way, shape or form? Usually. They’re young. They get paid well and are in exotic locations more often than not. So when you combine all those ingredients, yeah, shenanigans are going to happen.
It seems like you’ve become sort of a center for the show. What do you think attracts people to you?
I don’t know; I pretty much just wear it on my sleeve. People get what they see. I don’t do a lot of beating around the bush. Sometimes I’m just brutally honest, which some people can take and other times, not so much. Usually people appreciate that. If you don’t really want the answer to the question, then I’m probably the wrong person to ask. If you’re just looking for someone to agree with you because that’s your philosophy or opinion, I’m probably not the person you want to ask. I just don’t do that. Life is too short to go along with everything. So far it’s been working well. I’ve found that you can very rarely go wrong by doing the right thing. I try my best to do that. I’m not going to brutally hurt someone’s feelings by telling them the truth. Everything has to be tempered. There’s no point in being malicious or cruel. It’s just not a good thing. Life is too short for that as well.
How has the industry changed over the length of your career?
Yachting has gotten more complex because they keep building bigger and bigger and bigger boats. Sometimes it gets to the point where I think it’s not as much fun as it used to be because the boats are so much larger, and the amount of paperwork and regulation that comes into play. It rules out a lot of places you can go just because it’s so big. I prefer the smaller boats that are more intimate. You get to know the owner as opposed to a management company. A lot of times, the bigger boats are run by management companies and you just deal with the offices. You may see the owner or you may not — you may not have a conversation with him. Everything is already planned out by the office, but years ago it wasn’t that way. Your captain always knew the owner and almost became an extension of the family.
Do you get time off from charters? If so, where do you go on vacation?
It always has something to do with water.