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Tom Pearson's Yachting Career (and His Time on Anchor Watch) Didn't End with Below Deck Sailing Yacht

The deckhand says he went through "absolute hell" after being let go following the anchor dragging accident.

By Laura Rosenfeld
Tom Pearson Worries Glenn Shephard Is Going to Fire Him

For the first time in Below Deck Sailing Yacht history, Captain Glenn Shephard uttered these words: "I have to let you go."

How to Watch

Watch Below Deck Sailing Yacht on Peacock and the Bravo app

That statement was directed at Tom Pearson after the deckhand failed to alert the crew that the anchor was dragging while he was on night watch a couple of days prior. As the winds reached 30 knots, the Parsifal III drifted into shallow water, causing the bottom part of the boat, known as the keel, to run aground. Using the vessel's thrusters and the tender to make wake in the sea, the crew was luckily able to maneuver the boat out of the sand and prevent it from getting stuck.

Though the charter guests, crew, and yacht all ended up being safe and unharmed, this was a mistake that Captain Glenn could not overlook when it came to Tom's employment with the Parsifal III. "It's really clear to me that Tom's mind is in another place. So it's not like we can just let him stay because he can't do any harm. He can still do harm in that mindset," Captain Glenn explained in an interview in the April 4 episode. "We're not here to provide a job for Tom; we're here to run a safe boat. That's gotta be first."

We've seen a wide variety of reactions to getting the pink slip on Below Deck over the years, and Tom was definitely one of the more reticent after his dismissal. "I understood the decision that he made," Tom said during an exclusive interview with Bravo Insider in March prior to the episode airing. "I didn't want to stay. I wanted to go home. If anything, it was a sigh of relief because someone was making the decision for me. Do you know what I mean? I didn't have to make that decision anymore. I was gonna get to go home... be around the family, just chill out. And just try and make life semi-normal."

Prior to the anchor watch, Tom had received some bad news. His best friend's dad had collapsed and was on life support in the hospital. At that point, Tom said that he wasn't able to concentrate on anything other than what was going on with his loved ones. "That took my complete focus. All I could think about was being at home. Like, obviously I've got this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on this TV show and make everything work out great. But, you know, life chucks ya curveballs all the time. And all I could think about, all I could think about, was going home and being with my friend and his family. That's literally the only thing that I wanted," Tom shared. "I could try and convince myself or I could put myself in the state of mind where we could crack on and get things done and move past it. But ultimately, the only thing that I was thinking of, from the minute I got that phone call, was just going home. I didn't want to be anywhere else but right there at home where I could feel like I could do something. I didn't feel like it was right picking a TV show over my best friend."

But after some discussion, though, and "a lot of phone calls to my friend back home," Tom said that he got into "a good state of mind." "And he sort of told me, 'No, no, it's OK, stay' and whatever. I really got myself in that place in mind where I could and I tried to, you know, put it in the back of my head," Tom said. "But, no matter what, even if I said, 'It's great, I'm gonna be fine, I'll stay,' nothing was fine. Nothing was gonna be fine. All I could think about was that. It was the phone call that ruined the whole season. And I don't want to be selfish and say that because I might have lost a season of Below Deck, but my best mate, you know, he lost his dad."

Because of everything going on back home, Tom said that he "was distracted" during the anchor watch. "Basically, I forgot that it was a proper job and it wasn't just a TV show, do you know what I mean? I think I got caught up too much in everything that was going on back home and the fact that the cameras are rolling. And I think I was just distracted from everything, and I made a mistake. I didn't notice something, which makes me human, 'cause we all make mistakes," he explained. "But I definitely don't recall seeing anything. I just remember going outside and the wind was pumping. I was just massively distracted. Looking back, I definitely should have been on the ball a lot more. But I had a lot going on through my mind that night, and I suppose it just took me off the ball."

That chaotic night remains a blur to Tom to this day. "To be honest with you, I don't remember it. I didn't know it was happening," he said. "I don't really remember what happened or how it happened."

In the moments before the emergency alarm went off, Tom said that he "didn't know anything was going wrong," which is why he didn't alert the rest of the crew to any problems that night. "How can I wake you up if I don't know anything's going wrong? I apologized to Captain Glenn, to Gary [King]. Like, I wish I was on the ball more. They know I'm better than that. They know I'm capable. I just wasn't in the state of mind to be there, and of course, if I'd have known we're dragging, I would have woke them up. Like, of course I would have. That's just code of yachting, you know?" Tom said. "But the thing is, I went off my night watch. I went downstairs, and that's when stuff started going wrong. I didn't know until that point that stuff was going wrong, you know? So, yeah, I should have woke them up. But I didn't know anything was going on."

Colin MacRae's memory of the anchor dragging incident is perhaps more vivid, as he recalled being woken up in the wee hours of the morning in a separate interview with Bravo Insider in February. "It was pretty, pretty horrific waking up to engine alarms. All of the water had consolidated in one corner of the engine room and activated the alarm, which I asked Tom why we were heeled over so much, and he said there were 30 knots of wind out there. So I thought, well, all of that wind in the rigging had pushed us over for a bit. But it turned out we were on the bottom and the keel was sitting on the sand. That’s why we were heeled over," Colin said. "So that’s probably the worst experience I’ve ever had at sea. There was a moment where I thought we were not gonna come off. We had tugboats on the way. It was really serious, and it’s just really lucky that we got off that sand bank that we were stuck on."

The chief engineer also underscored the severity of the situation. "That’s how shipwrecks happen," he said. "The boat weighs, like, 500 tons or something like that. If that’s just sitting on the sand and the tugs can’t get you off and the waves just keep pushing the boat up onto the beach, it ends up being an artificial reef."

To put things into perspective for Below Deck Sailing Yacht fans, Colin said that the anchor dragging incident was "100 times worse" than last season's boat crash. "Hitting the dock, you’re not really in danger of sinking. You’re not really in danger of becoming a shipwreck. No one’s lives are really at risk. It’s just the boat is, you know, damaged to some extent on the stern there, if it hits on the stern," he said, before adding of running aground in Season 3, "Luckily we were on sand, but if that had been rock or coral, it would have been a very different story. And, yeah, we were just lucky it was soft sand that we landed in."

Though Tom didn't seem to think he was deserving of all the blame on Below Deck Sailing Yacht, he told Bravo Insider that it was "absolutely 150 percent my fault." "People have to understand, like, I might have been there, but my head wasn't there; my head was up my ass. Imagine going on a TV show where you literally think this is your make-or-break moment, and then everything is going so well. Then, you throw alcohol in the mix. You've got emotions running, and there's this girl that's, like, confusing you, and then you're drunk all the time and, you're just trying to do well, push through. And then you get a phone call from your best mate saying his dad, who you're really close to... He's dead. And then you've got a camera rolling on ya, 24 hours a day. Like, how are you meant to process everything? It's difficult, and like everyone who watches the show, they can see it and think, 'Oh, I would have done this like this,'" Tom said. "But the answer is, you don't know how you'll react to something like that until it happens to you. So people are gonna see me at my most vulnerable, just f--king confused and just in a really s---ty place. But it's not about the mistake; it's about the bounce back."

Taking accountability is just the right thing to do, according to Tom. "I could have sat there and blamed everyone else. Look at Cindi [Rose] from the show. Like, look at her, like she put stains on the couch. She's there saying it wasn't her. Everyone can see it's f--king her. But I don't know what you're doing. Like, I don't know why you don't just say it was you, like I don't get it. I don't understand the people that don't take things on the chin," he said. "The minute you start blaming everyone else and you start looking for excuses, that's when you're gonna turn people on you and people aren't gonna believe in you. They're not gonna like you. But I'm not doing that. I'm literally on the front line saying, 'I'm sorry. It was me. I had a lot of s--t going on.'"

Tom has also come to see the incident as "a learning experience." "The biggest mistake I ever made in my life, I was gonna make it at some point; it just happened to be on national television," he shared. "But, you know, everyone makes mistakes; they're just not recorded. Look at Glenn. He smashed the boat into the dock last season. Like, that's a big mistake, you know?"

It's moments like this that Tom says "shows that I'm human." "I just made a mistake, simple as that. It's my fault. And I just hope that everyone on the show can, you know, forgive me," he said. "I'm sure that everyone on the show or people watching at home, they all make huge mistakes in their lives as well. You show me the man who doesn't make any mistakes, and I'll show you the man that didn't learn anything."

Getting to this place hasn't been easy for Tom as he said that the incident continued to haunt him in the days, weeks, and months since he left the Parsifal III. "It's a mistake that I literally think about every single day," he shared. "There's not a day gone by since that happened where I haven't thought about it for a second or haven't thought, you know, 'When did things happen, what order did they happen in?'"

Tom said that he had "been through absolute hell" and was filled with "anxiety" in the lead-up to the episode airing. "After the show, when I went home, I was absolutely — you could ask my mom — I was, excuse my French, I was f--king miserable," he recalled. "I just went in my room. I ate loads of s--t. I put on weight. I didn't go out. I didn't see anyone. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just hid."

Thankfully, Tom was eventually able to make peace with it. "It happened. We need to get back on the boat now. We need to show people I'm not hiding from this f--king mistake. Like, it was a mistake. Let it be a mistake. Let [yourself] learn from it and move past it," he said. "I just hope that Glenn and Colin and Gary, everyone, they can forgive me, too. And I just hope that people aren't too harsh on me 'cause no one in the world could beat me up as much as I've [beaten] myself up about it for the months and months and months."

In addition to hoping for forgiveness from others, Tom said that he's also forgiven himself. "I've moved on. I don't think I need to focus on that anymore. I'm quite proud of myself for where I've [gotten] myself to now. I've moved past the mistake. I'm doing really well, and a lot of it is about not the mistake itself but where you go from there afterwards. Like, how do you make amends for what you've done? Do you just sit and do nothing, or do you go out there and smash it, prove to yourself, I am good at this, I am good at my job, which I know I am," Tom said. "So I can say that, you know, obviously, I ask for the forgiveness of my crewmates, [the] audience, family back home. But I'm proud of myself and where I am now. And now when I can finally say I've come out the other side of the tunnel, like, I don't need to kick myself anymore about it."

So, Tom soon returned to working on boats, though he noted that "just getting back into it, it wasn't easy." "I'm still here, still working my ass off, still yachting," he said. "So, you know, we've got unfinished business. The book in yachting stayed half-open for me even after that mistake. It was like, OK, it's a chapter in the book. The rest of the book's gonna be the bounce back, and the bounce back will be greater than the downfall."

When Tom spoke to Bravo Insider, he was working on a yacht in the Bahamas. "And they know what happened and they do not judge me for that one bit," he said. "They know I'm very capable at my job. I'm killing it. Like, I'm doing really well."

And the shift that Tom was on at the time? The anchor watch. "And every night I do my job, I fill in the log," he said. "I make sure everything's going right."

Tom, who originally hails from Windermere in the north of England, was planning on heading back home to the U.K. to take more courses and "start some new venture on the water" at the time of this interview. He did eventually make it back to his home country, sharing a photo of himself on Instagram on April 3 in Cumbria's Lake District, along with some adorable furry friends.

And though Tom's ultimate career goals are still "to be determined," he assured us that he's "definitely got more to show." "What got me into yachting was my passion for water sports, and I really think I'm going to, at some point, turn that passion full-time because I don't always get to do that in yachting. I would like to do more water sports," he said. "So, maybe get a job on a yacht that's more water sports-based where it's more full-time, 'cause that's where my passion lies. I love teaching people how to wakesurf, how to wakeboard or to waterski or whatever, flyboard, jet ski. But no, I'm definitely not finished. Tom Pearson has not given up."

Tom said that he doesn't have any hard feelings for Captain Glenn letting him go, either. "I think he made the right decision and nothing but respect for Captain Glenn. I think he's a great guy. Not a lot of people would put up with this s--t," Tom said, referencing when he got sick in their cabin on the first night of the season. "I think he did a great job. I think he did what had to be done."

He even believes that he owes Captain Glenn an apology, among others. "Whenever I see Glenn or talk to him, I'd like to apologize to him, apologize to the crew, to the fans of the show, or whatever, to the guests that were on the boat," he shared. "But apart from that, I don't need to apologize to anyone. I made a mistake. Like, I really don't have to just spend my whole life apologizing for it. I've literally made amends with what I did. And, you know, I'm allowed to move on like everyone else."

Tom also has some catching up to do on this season of Below Deck Sailing Yacht. He said that he has "not even been able to watch the episodes 'cause I'm just working my ass off every day."

However, Tom said that he "loved" the experience overall, and it's even inspired him to look into similar opportunities, including TV. "I think I've had a really good response from the audience, just so many messages every day from people how, you know, I'm their favorite or I'm funny. Just the recognition has just been brilliant," he shared. "It's quite humbling to think that, you know, 'cause I didn't know that I had the potential to sort of be this person on a show that people liked. So I'm loving it. I'm loving everything about it, and, looking back, you know, up to now, everything went perfect."

Now, as Season 3 of Below Deck Sailing Yacht forges ahead without Tom, the deckhand just hopes that fans had as much fun watching him on the show as he did filming it. "I hope that people are sad that I'm gone rather than, you know, happy that I'm gone," he said. "And definitely, they have not seen the last of me."

Want more Below Deck Sailing Yacht? New episodes air every Monday at 8/7c.

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