'Below Deck' 's Captain Lee Rosbach Reveals He'll Be Returning Later This Season

"I wanted to be able to finish what I started," Captain Lee tells PEOPLE exclusively

Below Deck viewers haven't seen the last of Lee Rosbach this season just yet.

The longtime yacht captain had to unexpectedly depart season 10 on Monday's episode due to nerve damage in his left leg, with Captain Sandy Yawn from Below Deck Mediterranean stepping in to relieve him. But, he tells PEOPLE exclusively, he'll be back later this season.

"I made a promise to the crew before I left that I would be back before they were done, before the season was over, and I would walk on board by myself unassisted," says Rosbach, 73. "I'm happy to say that I was able to fulfill the promise."

"That was a very proud moment for me," he adds. "I wanted to be able to finish what I started."

Captain Lee Rosbach
Karolina Wojtasik/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

Rosbach still doesn't know what caused his nerve issues, explaining that doctors have determined that two previous operations — one on his back and one on his neck — both went "extremely well" and didn't impact his nerve.

Regardless, things got so bad for Rosbach over the course of his time aboard the St. David motor yacht that he wasn't able to feel anything on the left side of his body, making it impossible for him to stand and keep his balance.

"My mind's there, my heart's there, my body just won't cooperate," he said on Monday's episode. "I've never quit, and this time, I have to."

"I finally gave myself a plane ticket home, but it's round trip," he told his crew. "I'm going to go back to the States, get this straightened out and as soon as I do I'll be on the first plane back here and tell whoever's on board to get the f--- off my boat."

Walking away from the show wasn't easy. "That's something I've never done in my life," he tells PEOPLE. "I've never quit. I've never had to say I quit. And it was really, really hard to admit, especially to myself, that there's something out there that kicked my ass. That was a hard pill to swallow."

His staff — led by bosun Ross McHarg, chief steward Fraser Olender and chef Rachel Hargrove — were near tears at the news he would be leaving.

"I was very touched by that," Rosbach says, looking back. "It was palpable. You could taste it. It was in the air and it was just raw emotion on both sides of that fence. I was close to tears because it just means that much to me. And to be able to instill that in other people, that same sort of caring and see it take place, it's like, 'Yeah, I've done good.' To have to walk away from that was just harsh."

Captian Lee Rosbach. Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

So how did Rosbach get back on board? Turns out, extensive physical therapy helped him strengthen his muscles so he could work around it.

"Gosh, the progress with nerves is really slow," he explains to PEOPLE. "Nerves regenerate about four millimeters a month. And if I wanted to get back, I had to bust my hump and not pay attention to the nerve issue, but pay attention to getting the muscles stronger so that I could physically perform my duties. Because I had atrophy, where my muscles had weakened because of underuse. So that's what I concentrated on; the muscles. The nerve, that'll happen when it happens, and it's going to be slow."

Rosbach says he sometimes went to physical therapy as many as six days a week. "If they were open, I was there," he says.

A massage therapist and a clinician would come to the house, too, as part of his treatment.

"There were times when I would get discouraged," he recalls. "I'm like everybody else, I guess. We're so used to instant gratification. We want to see progress immediately. And with nerve damage, it just doesn't happen that way. So I'd get frustrated. Other people would see a difference in my progress but it wouldn't seem like anything to me because I wanted to see leaps and bounds instead of baby steps. But we got there."

Captain Lee Rosbach
Captain Lee Rosbach. Laurent Bassett/Bravo

Indeed he did. Rosbach says he's now feeling "great," adding that "right now, everything's in a good place."

"It was a bit of a rough patch there," he says. "I felt like Chester in Gunsmoke!"

He's especially grateful to his wife, Mary Anne, for being a "tremendous support" during his healing, as well as fans for all the love they've shown him.

"The outpouring of sympathy was just overwhelming," he says, joking that there was so much kindness coming his way, "I thought I died!"

"I don't consider myself a celebrity or a reality TV star. I'm just a captain that does this job, happens to get filmed while I'm doing it," Rosbach shares. "And then when something like that happens and you see the reaction to the fans, you realize the responsibility you have and how many people's lives you actually touch in a great way. So it's humbling to say the least."

"But I'm still here," he jokes. "It's going to take more than that to stop me."

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Below Deck airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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