The Untold Truth Of Below Deck's Captain Lee

He's the unlikely star of a hit reality show, but fame hasn't changed Harold Lee Rosbach — better known to "Below Deck" viewers as Captain Lee — one little bit. The Michigan native's no-nonsense attitude and snappy one-liners made him an instant hit with fans of the Bravo series, which follows the captain and his crew as they attempt to keep a luxury yacht full of rich passengers running smoothly. The pilot episode received a poor write-up in The New York Times when it aired in 2013, but with exotic locations and regular drama guaranteed, "Below Deck" would go on to become the most-watched series on Bravo. In 2021, it was nominated for its first Emmys, a huge moment for Rosbach. "Being part of 'Below Deck' since the beginning has been a wild ride that has been filled with many surprises," he said in a statement (per Variety). "Finding out today that we received two Emmy nominations is the most exciting surprise yet."

The so-called Stud of the Sea is in his 70s now, yet, despite some recent health challenges, he shows no signs of slowing down. He's rubbished rumors that he's thinking about quitting the show ("I'm still having way too much fun," he told Metro ahead of the "Below Deck" Season 9 premiere), which simply wouldn't be the same without him. How does he stay in such good shape? Was he always a sailor? And what does he really think of that nickname? This is the untold truth of "Below Deck" star Captain Lee.

He used to own several restaurants

Before he was the Stud of the Sea, Lee Rosbach was a restaurateur who owned a number of eateries across the country. "I had restaurants in Indiana, Georgia, and Florida," he told the Midland Daily News. He fell in love with the water when he moved to Florida and would later open up another restaurant in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory located southeast of the Bahamas. Staring out at the pristine ocean just wasn't enough for him, however. "It got to the point that I wanted to spend more time on boats than in the restaurant," he recalled. When he found himself needing some extra cash, he decided to earn it at sea.

"I took a job delivering a sailboat to the British Virgin Islands," the "Below Deck" star told GQ. "I was supposed to get paid $50 a day as a deckhand, and I was seasick the whole time. The guy screwed me out of half my pay, so I was actually working for $25 a day." The low pay and the seasickness — which stopped after about a year of being at sea, he revealed — was ultimately worth it. The trip confirmed to him that he was a sailor at heart, and he decided a career change was in order. "When I got back, my wife and I moved back to the United States and saved enough money so I could pursue my captain's career in Florida," he recalled.

Captain Lee wasn't supposed to be on the show

Believe it or not, Captain Lee wasn't part of Bravo's plans when they set about making the first season of "Below Deck." By this point in time, Rosbach had obtained his captain's license (he was 35 when he passed the test, meaning he's been a captain for more than half of his life) and was happily running a luxury yacht called Cuor di Lione. His path would be forever altered when he got a call from the yacht's owner one day. "He said there's a TV network that wants to charter the boat for eight weeks," Lee told Boat International. "They've got their own captain and crew and all you need to do is drop the boat off in St. Maarten." Rosbach delivered the boat to St. Maarten as planned, but there was a big problem when he got there.

The captain that Bravo execs had lined up decided to pull out of the show at the last minute, and the producers on location found themselves in quite the tight spot. The original captain's loss would be Rosbach's gain, as he recalled during an interview on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." "They had a conundrum because we were already late into the game," the straight-talking reality star said, "and they needed a captain, so they said, 'Well, I guess we'll use the old guy.'" Little did they know that "the old guy" would go on to become the show's main attraction.

He used to be an amateur boxer

One thing that "Below Deck" viewers can't help but notice is that Captain Lee is in remarkable shape for a man of his age. You might think that his physique comes from years of tying knots and hoisting sails, but he actually started packing on the muscle long before he took to the seas. "I've always been in pretty good shape," he told GQ. "I've been a gym rat my whole life." Rosbach revealed to the magazine that he had a spell as an amateur boxer in his early 20s, going all the way to "the state finals in Michigan" one year. "I promised myself I'd fight until I lost, which happened at the state finals," he said. "Guy really rung my bell. I lost TKO."

His defeat in the ring didn't dampen Rosbach's enthusiasm for the gym. In fact, he started hitting the weights even harder when he began his career as a restaurateur. "I changed my workout when we moved out to Indiana and got our first restaurant, and I started going to a gym where a lot of the athletes from Notre Dame went," he explained. "Some of the guys from the football team would come in, and they're just beasts." Those who have gotten to know Captain Lee on "Below Deck" won't be surprised to learn that he became friendly with the young football stars. "I used to work out with them all the time," he revealed.

Captain Lee still works out every day

Despite being in his 70s, Captain Lee is still the same "gym rat" he was all those years ago. He lifted the lid on his workout routine during his candid GQ interview, telling the men's mag that he's "usually at the gym for two hours" every single day. "I do a lot of repetitions without really heavy weights," he explained. "I'll switch it up every couple of weeks so that my muscles don't remember the same routine." Of course, this only applies when the captain is at home in Florida and he can frequent a fully functional gym — so what does he do when he's at sea? "It depends on the boat," he said. "If there isn't a gym, I'll take some weights with me or I'll buy some when we're docked. If there's a local gym, I'll hit that."

When he's really pressed for time, Rosbach will break out the resistance bands that he travels with and do his workout up on deck at first light. "I like working out outside," he explained. "It just really puts you in a great frame of mind to start your day." Glimpses of the captain's sunrise workouts are rare, but that's not for a lack of trying on the show's part. According to Rosbach, he often rounds on the camera crew when they try to film him in action. "They're like, 'Cap, I'm just doing my job!' I'm, like, 'Get the f*** outta here!'"

The seafarer insists the show isn't scripted

It's no secret that many reality TV shows are partly (or even fully) scripted, but that doesn't appear to be the case with "Below Deck." In 2014, Captain Lee told the Midland Daily News: "I still run the boat the same way, regardless if it is on TV or not." When he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Men's Health in 2020, Rosbach confirmed that this was still the case. "I don't know if anybody could make this stuff up," he said. "The cameras start rolling at 6:30 in the morning and they don't stop until the last person goes to bed. Static cameras are rolling all the time. So whatever happens, happens. There's no lack of content."

When asked about ex-cast member Caroline Bedol (who called the show "heavily manipulated" in a Reddit AMA), the captain got a little salty, putting it down to "people trying to maintain their relevancy for longer than they should be." The former third stew made it clear that she has a pretty low opinion of Rosbach following her unceremonious exit in Season 6 (she left halfway through the charter after accusing colleagues of bullying), telling Reddit that he has "a broken moral compass." That's not how one of the charter guests from that season remembers him, however. "Captain Lee is every bit as funny, charming, and smart as he appears on the show," Linda P. Jones wrote in a blog post. "He's the real deal."

His studly nickname makes him blush

Captain Lee got his catchy nickname in 2015 when a teaser trailer for "Below Deck" Season 3 referred to him as the Stud of the Sea for the first time. The name stuck, but Rosbach would later reveal that he didn't know what was happening when the camera crew arrived to film the now-iconic clip. "I had no idea they were going to do this," he told Lifestyle Magazine (via Showbiz Cheat Sheet). "A special team came down and did some camera shots. The next thing you know I'm looking at the teaser, and they are talking about the Stud of the Sea. I said to them, 'Oh, someone is going to pay for this!'" The show's executive producer loved the new name, however, and so did the charter guests.

Writing about her experience on "Below Deck," Linda P. Jones revealed that she made Rosbach blush when she called him by his nickname at dinner one evening. "I've seen every 'Below Deck' show ... so I had to tease him and call him the Stud of the Sea," she said on her blog. "I looked back a minute later and he had put his white linen napkin over his head to hide his red face!" This isn't an unusual reaction from the captain, who finds the whole thing "kind of embarrassing," he told GQ. "It's flattering, but I don't do anything special," he added. "I'm just a guy who gets filmed doing his job."

Captain Lee's wife keeps him grounded

Even after he said yes to appearing on "Below Deck," Captain Lee had no idea that he was destined to become a reality TV star. When the "Stud of the Sea" teaser went viral ahead of Season 3, he quickly realized just how "unprepared for" fame he was. "No one gives you a playbook to be a celebrity all of a sudden," Rosbach told Lifestyle Magazine (via Showbiz Cheat Sheet). He went on to reveal that he's often stopped by fans these days ("It doesn't help that he has 'Capt. Lee' as his license plate," his wife joked), but he really doesn't mind posing for pictures with them. In fact, he rather enjoys it. "My philosophy is that if you can put a smile on someone's face and it takes 10 or 15 seconds of your time, why wouldn't you do that?"

Rosbach seems to cherish his belated fame, but has it gone to his head at all? He admits that it's easy to get carried away when you're in front of the cameras, but at the end of the day, he has a job to do. "If I find myself drifting in that direction, I kind of slap myself upside the head and say, 'Get a grip!'" the captain told GQ. He revealed to the men's mag that his wife, Mary Anne, helps him to "stay grounded," adding, "I talk to her every day. And before wireless cellular, it used to get quite expensive."

His son died of an accidental overdose

Captain Lee and his wife Mary Anne have had five children together: a daughter and four sons. In 2019, their son Josh (the youngest of the four boys), died from an accidental drug overdose. "After a twenty-year struggle, he finally succumbed to the demons he fought so long and so hard," Rosbach tweeted. Josh was 42.

In 2020, Rosbach shared an Instagram photo of his tattoo tribute to his late son: Josh's likeness inked on his chest. And when he appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" the following year, Rosbach revealed why he decided to discuss his son's death on "Below Deck," explaining that he felt the need to speak up about the way addiction is viewed in America. "They don't realize that addicts aren't the dregs of society," he said. "It crosses all social boundaries: it doesn't make any difference how much money you have or you don't have."

According to the captain, drug addiction has become "the elephant in the room that nobody wants to confront," and he wants to be the man to finally do something about it. "I don't believe in the last two years I've talked with anyone that doesn't know of someone personally that has paid a steep price for this opioid crisis we have, and nobody says anything about it," Rosbach stated. "Somebody has to step up." In the meantime, all he can do is take life "one day at a time" as he continues to deal with the loss.

The captain is opening a rehab center at sea

When he appeared as a guest on Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" in 2021, Captain Lee told host Andy Cohen that he planned on honoring his late son by opening a rehab center — at sea. The silver-haired skipper revealed that the facility will be on a 470-foot barge out in the water and will be able to accommodate up to "200 patients at a time." It's not just about kicking the drugs, however. "We're also converting it into a vocational rehabilitation center so that not only do we try to get them clean, but we try to get them back into the mainstream of the community with an ability to make a living," Rosbach explained.

The reality star has even been to Congress to call for more help in dealing with what he's called "the worsening opioid/fentanyl crisis," he revealed in an Instagram post. He was able to address the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force personally, telling them the tragic story of his son and urging them to act before more parents had to go through the same thing he and his wife did. "The hole in your heart's never gonna go away — you can't replace it with anything else," Rosbach said on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." "We're not generally constructed to bury our children. From the time you're born, you grow old and your parents pass away. It's not the other way around. And when that happens, it's completely devastating."

Charter guest Delores never apologized to him

Captain Lee has had to deal with some pretty out-there requests from his guests during his time. "This wasn't on the show, but we had to have a suckling pig flown from New Zealand [to Baltimore]," he told Men's Health. "Like anything else that billionaires want, when they want it, they want it. They throw some money at it and you make it work." Money doesn't solve every problem, however. In one of the most famous "Below Deck" moments to date, Captain Lee lost his rag when a drunk guest ignored his rules and went swimming at night, something he described as "the ultimate f*** you to the captain."

Rosbach rounded on Delores Flora (who dived into the water while still wearing her evening dress), reminding her that it wasn't safe. When she told the captain that she had "paid a lot of money" for the trip, he fired back with, "I don't give a s*** what you paid!" Rosbach later confirmed on Twitter that Flora never said sorry for her behavior. When she appeared on "Watch What Happens Live" to discuss the incident, she said that she doesn't feel like she owes the captain any apologies. "You know, the water was just beautiful," she told Andy Cohen. "I do have a problem with authority, and the first time I remember getting in trouble was for jumping in the deep end of a pool, so I've always had a problem with jumping in the water."

Captain Lee responds to Below Deck's racial slur controversy

"Below Deck" hit the headlines in December 2021 when chief stewardess Heather Chase used the N-word twice during an episode. A clip from the crew's drunken night out showed Chase (who is white) repeating the word after Black deckhand Rayna Lindsey said it, and she appeared to use it again while rapping in front of Lindsey later that evening, which prompted a response. "You cannot say n****, you're white as f***," Lindsey said. "It's not 2002 anymore, you know?" Fans had little sympathy for Chase after she stormed off to bed complaining about being called out, saying, "It just made me feel bad." Lindsey addressed her colleague's use of the racial slur while speaking to the cameras the following morning. "It hurts me," she said, per E! News. "It hurts my heart. It hurts everything in me."

When Captain Lee saw the episode for the first time, he went straight to his personal blog and penned a scathing post. "I was truly disgusted by some words used in this week's episode that I will not repeat," Rosbach wrote. "I find them despicable. The word I heard used casually on this week's episode is not one I tolerate in any way shape or form on my boat." Chase was also watching the episode, and she was embarrassed by her behavior. "While I apologized to Rayna throughout the season, I cannot express enough how remorseful I am," she said in an Instagram post.