From kitchen dreams to custom build quarrels, siblings Sabina and Roy Nasser talk Sophia Wilson through their path to family superyacht ownership...
“When I was a baby and my father was trying to start his technology business from our kitchen in Brazil, he told my mother: ‘When I make it we are going to get a boat.’ My mother laughed out loud and told him to ‘keep rocking the baby’,” says the vivacious Brazilian Sabina Nasser. Fast forward more than 30 years and it appears that her father has had the last laugh. I am sitting with the then baby, Sabina, and her younger brother Roy on the sundeck of their 43.25 metre Mondomarine yacht Bina, drinking Minuty rosé and watching the sun set across Gustavia harbour in St Barths, after three days cruising the surrounding islands.
Superyacht ownership may have started as their father’s vision but Bina is the realisation of a family dream. “We weren’t born into this,” says Sabina. “This happened as the result of ambition, hard work and good luck together.” Hard work is clearly something that no members of the family are allowed to avoid – and both siblings have achieved success in their own right. Roy taught himself to program at the age of nine and, remarkably, launched his first business venture a few months later. In 2001 he co-founded the software company NeoAssist, and his commercial spirit has seen him recognised by Endeavor, a worldwide organisation that aims to increase entrepreneurship worldwide, especially in developing countries.
Sabina now focuses on managing the family’s property and assets from New York but her background is in medicine, and neurology in particular (she specialised in AIDS and Parkinson’s disease care and research). Roy and Sabina both spent time volunteering in the slums in Brazil as teenagers, with Sabina helping to deliver a child for the first time when she was just 15. “My parents say that the best thing you can give your children is roots and wings,” she says.
Despite being a family affair, not all Nassers fell in love with sailing at the same time. Roy’s introduction was an unpleasant one, on Lake Geneva aged eight. “We used to spend the summer in Switzerland with my grandmother,” he says, “and I was annoying her so much by taking everything apart in the house that she ordered my mother to get me out. So I was sent to sailing school. It was cold as hell that summer and the teacher was mean. I learnt to sail but I came home crying every night.” Fortunately, a week sailing Hobie Cats in St Barths later that year managed to lure him back to the water.
The path to the yacht that we are now relaxing on has also been a winding one. The Nassers’ first foray into yacht ownership was in 2001 with a 13 metre Ferretti. Shortly afterwards they traded up to a 15.8 metre Pershing before opting to custom build a 24 metre. “Building her from scratch was an incredible experience,” says Sabina. “She is for sale now but she is very much a part of our lives.”
It might have been incredible but the siblings are the first to admit that it wasn’t always straightforward. “My mum actually threatened to pull the plug on the whole thing because my dad and I were having constant fights,” Roy laughs. “In the end we both realised that it was better to not fight and have the boat.”
The Nassers’ yacht progression has been deliberately gradual. “When you first buy a yacht there is a big chance you are going to buy a yacht you are not going to like. The bigger the yacht, the bigger the problem. We were very conscious not to make that mistake,” explains Roy. It was not until 2011 that the family started looking for their first superyacht. “We were not looking for anything as big at first,” says Sabina. “We were looking at around 32 metres. We saw a 38 metre and it seemed crazy.”
In the end it took more than two years and two failed purchases to arrive at this yacht, which was built in Italy and delivered in 2006. “I had a spreadsheet, which has more than 40 to 60 columns and about 80 to 90 yachts,” reveals Roy. “Even things that we didn’t really like I was tracking to see how much they were listed for, how much they were selling for and how long they were on the market. We must have seen more than two dozen yachts between all of us.”
For Sabina, it was the feel of the yacht, rather than the statistics, that instantly won her over. “When I came on board I knew this was the one, I knew it could work,” she says. “I didn’t have to sit too long to try and work out what we needed to do to make it ours.”
Immediately after the purchase was completed Bina was switched from charter back to private use and went to Lauderdale Marine Centre for eight months’ work, including safety upgrades and the transformation of the galley and crew accommodation. “We knew that she came with a lot of baggage,” says Roy. “But my father and I were adamant that we would open all the cans of worms that needed to be opened.”
This initial period of work was just the first stage of a refit process that would later see the yacht’s entire interior transformed from dark cherrywood to a modern “Hamptons beach house feel”, under the watchful eye of Sabina and her mother. Every interior detail of Bina has been considered, not just with style in mind but also with practicality. “We wanted to be different from what we had seen. I think a lot of boats don’t feel like boats because owners and designers try to overcompensate. For example, we love napping on the sofa so we wanted comfortable sofas and that was our first priority,” says Roy – “although obviously, with my mum and Sabina, we weren’t getting anything ugly through the door.”
It’s hard to imagine more hands-on owners than Sabina and Roy. This week they have given up their hard-earned holiday to host me on board. As a guest I have not been treated as a visitor but rather I’ve been made to feel like part of the family. After just three days there are in-jokes, and friendly rivalries. They are both involved in every aspect of life on board, from the splash tiles in the kitchen to the crew uniform. For this particular trip Sabina has flown out with half a dozen red belts as the stewardesses were struggling to secure their radios to their evening dresses.
This dedication to the yacht is reflected in their relationship with the crew. I’m not at all surprised to hear that several crew members are invited to Sabina’s forthcoming wedding. The crew were also a factor in the family’s decision for Bina to be reintroduced to the charter market in spring 2016. “It was always in the back of our minds to go back to charter as a way to keep the crew happy and the yacht busy,” Roy says. “It takes a lot to run a yacht of this size; things are moving and breaking all the time. Having it run in a way that the guests or the owners don’t feel when something goes wrong is key to the experience. It doesn’t happen if you have your yacht at the dock or at the shipyard for most of the year.”
“On a business level we have no illusions that this could be a profitable business. That’s not what this is about,” adds Sabina. “But if we are able to offset some of the cost then we are happy; for example, if it covers the cost to pay for transport between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.”
While the two siblings are united in their passion for Bina, their day-to-day lives are separate, with Sabina in New York and Roy running his business from São Paulo. “It is a great place to visit but can be quite overwhelming to live in, even for someone who has lived there most of their life,” says Roy. “I love Monaco and one day, when I retire, I’d love to spend more time there.”
While sunny days in Monaco remain a fantasy, family time on Bina is a reality. The yacht is a place where they all (including Sabina’s now blind terrier Boo and Roy’s golden retriever D’Artagnan, known as Dart) come together. “We try to do a two-week-a-year family trip,” says Roy. “We are all thrown on board together and you don’t have the privacy of your own room like in a hotel. I know a lot of owners talk about going bigger because they want more privacy but if it’s your friends or family on board what kind of privacy do you need?”
Having been fortunate enough to be made part of the Bina family for the past few days I’m inclined to agree. Privacy is overrated.
Images courtesy of Jeff Brown