Matt Sawyer is a college dropout who lives in a 1,400-square-foot house. He flies coach. He doesn’t own a PlayStation, or dream of dating supermodels, or drape himself in bling. To see the 22-year-old walking across the sand in his hometown of Newport Beach, California, you might think he’s a surfer dude. To see him aboard his yacht, a 94-foot Hargrave built in 2001, you could mistake him for a deckhand.
He never dreamed that when his grandfather brought him into the industrial real estate business as a teenager, he would wind up successful enough to charter a yacht like Golden Boy, let alone own one inside of ten years—just one of the reasons he’s eager to learn all he can about the business. He also knows his age makes him seem an easy target for the least savory of brokers and suppliers, another reason he has immersed himself in learning everything he can. He owns and studies every issue of Power & Motoryacht dating back to 1996. He attends boat shows for the knowledge they provide, not for their parties. He strongly considers the advice of anyone who cares to offer it.
As a result, Sawyer knows more after his first year as a megayacht owner than many men three times his age learn during a lifetime of boat ownership—primarily that yachting is fun, but that yacht charter is a highly competitive business.
“I’m in the industrial real estate industry,” he says. “I’d rather have my buildings rented at a low rent than have to go find a special tenant who’ll pay the highest rent, but have the building vacant for two months. I look at the boat the same way. I’ve priced it very reasonably for what it has, and charter clients will know they’re getting a deal.”
Sawyer’s love of boats was instilled in him by the same grandfather who guided him in his career. “By the time I was born, he was into a 34-foot Sea Ray,” Sawyer says. “[When I was] three weeks old, he took me to Catalina for the first time. My grandmother used to bathe me in the cockpit sink.”
His childhood summers were spent cruising to Catalina and San Diego with his grandparents, helping out as their boats got bigger. When his grandmother died in 2003, his grandfather kept the couple’s 47-foot Californian—the biggest boat Sawyer had ever been aboard—but the cruising became less frequent.
“I bought my first boat about a year after my grandmother died,” he recalls. “I missed going with her, I missed experiencing it with her, and this 44-foot Trojan that we found was her, through and through. So I bought the boat and named it Norma Jean. Everyone thought I named it after Marilyn Monroe, but it was my grandma.”
Being the boat’s owner was far different from being grandpa’s helper, and Sawyer soon learned that boating is expensive, challenging, and fun. He started attending the annual Fort Lauderdale and Miami boat shows with a friend of the family. “We ended up going on a 60-footer, and we thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is amazing!’ Then a 70-footer. And they were just incredible. I ended up getting aboard a few boats in the 90-foot range, and I thought it would be a great boat for getting my whole family together and going on boating vacations.”
Sawyer bought the Hargrave in March 2005. He figured his annual expenses would be about $250,000 a year. “Boy was I off,” he says with a laugh. “That’s just the crew!”
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