At First Sight

At First Sight

Longtime Sea Ray owner and exotic-car dealer Sonny Morgan recalls the chance encounter that changed his boating life.

In the spring of 1977, Sonny Morgan bought a 240 Weekender. “That was our first Sea Ray,” he says wistfully.

Thirty-five years later, the lifelong Texan and his wife, Karen, cruise Austin’s lakes aboard a gorgeous 250 SLX. They’ve owned almost a half-dozen other Sea Rays during the intervening years—a clear indication the brand holds a special place in Sonny’s heart. “Every time I look at a Sea Ray,” he says, “it gives me a very unique feeling inside about the product—where other boats don’t do that for me.”

The 240 was a boat for its times. “It had a yellow hull,” Sonny remembers. “That was a big deal back in ’77. It had all these wild, geometric cushions and a fuzzy headliner in it. It looked like something you’d see in a discotheque or something.” A couple of years later, the winds of style had shifted; he and Karen were onto a 260 Express Cruiser. “They always come out with something new and greater,” Sonny says of Sea Ray. “Something that would be more comfortable for us.”

Come 1981, he was transfixed on the forthcoming ’82 300 Express Cruiser—one of the most hotly anticipated boats of the year. After Sonny eagerly placed an order, his dealer invited him and his family to fly down to Merritt Island, Florida, to see his boat being built. “I thought it’d be cool to see it,” Sonny says. “I took my parents and my wife. We walked in, and there was a gentleman who greeted us, literally at the front door.”

His name sounded awfully familiar, but at first Sonny couldn’t place him. “He came over and introduced himself—and I didn’t know who the head guy was,” Sonny recalls. “He said, ‘My name’s C.N. Ray.’ I said, ‘Yeah, like Sea Ray?’ And he said, ‘Well, yes, that’s where we got the name.’” Sonny stops to chuckle about the exchange. He and his family had just been greeted by the company founder himself.

“He had all kinds of gifts for us,” Sonny goes on. “He then took us back and showed us the boat.” The whole family had the opportunity to stand in the hull of the 300 Sonny had ordered and witness how the new boat was taking shape. C.N. was at their side, “showing us every little detail himself,” Sonny adds proudly.

That yellow-hulled 240 Weekender may have turned Sonny on to Sea Ray, but that fateful day in Merritt Island made him a devotee. “We spent all day with him,” he says. “I think, more so than anything, that experience probably locked me down as a Sea Ray owner.”

Although Sonny was sold on Sea Ray, the 300 Express Cruiser he stood in was destined for another boater—and it would be almost two decades before Sonny owned another Sea Ray. “That particular model was probably one of the most popular boats at the time,” he says. “They were red-hot.” Dealers were clamoring to get their hands on one. Sonny’s had managed to lay claim to a single unit, but had orders from two customers.

“About the time it was supposed to show up at the dealer, he called me up and said, ‘Look, I have a customer that absolutely has got to have one right away. If I make you a deal, would you give him this boat and let me order you another one?’” Sonny assented, and the 300 went to the other customer. But the Morgans ended up never re-placing their order. Life has its way of interrupting plans, and they ultimately would put their boating life on hiatus for 19 years.

By 2000, however, the old itch became too strong to ignore. “One day, my wife and I were talking about how much fun we used to have in those boats,” Sonny says. “I said, ‘Well, there’s a Sea Ray dealer up there on Lake Lewisville’”—the same lake, outside Dallas, where the Morgans had boated with their first two Sea Rays. They took a drive to MarineMax Lewisville/Dallas. “I wanted to look where we left off”—at the then-current offerings at 30 feet.

But something funny had happened over the years he’d been away from boats. To Sonny’s eye, 30-footers had shrunk since the last time he was aboard one. “The 300 was the biggest damn boat in the world when we ordered one!” he recalls. “But it seemed to have gotten smaller as I got older.” They gravitated toward a handsome 400 Sedan Bridge; with its expansive interior and elevated top deck, the boat proved ideal for their rekindled interest in boating.

Rekindled and then some. The Morgans then fell hard for a 390 Motor Yacht at the 2003 Dallas boat show. “Both of us just went gaga over it,” Sonny says. It was a palatial home on the water, with an inviting stateroom and big open-air spaces.

Life on the 390 was good—and not just for the couple. Aside from Sea Rays, the Morgans are also devoted dog lovers, fond of greyhounds in need of a good home. They’ve taken in four over the years, all rescues. Three are Italian greyhounds; one, which sadly passed away recently, was a former racer rescued from a Galveston dog track.

“They’re a mess,” Sonny says lovingly. “A lot of people don’t understand that particular breed. They think they’re a lot of trouble and a lot of maintenance, but they’re really not… The one thing is, they do appreciate a loving home. And they love attention.” The greyhounds got their own luxe stateroom on the 390. Sea Ray number five, a 240 Select, soon arrived to complement the 390; it was great for short, impromptu cruises that didn’t call for firing up the mothership.

They loved life on the lake so much, they decided to put down roots with a “dockominium” that included a boat slip right outside their door. The condo’s overnight accommodations allowed the Morgans to step into a more right-sized vessel for their ever-evolving lifestyle: a 320 Sundancer. Actually, the choice was more calculated: “We named that boat Greyt Escape,” Sonny says. “It was our way of getting away from the dogs. Because when you’re with them, they want 100 percent of your attention!” For some alone time, they’d leave the greyhounds back at the condo and hit the lake aboard their sleek new ride.

Sonny’s business is in luxury automotive sales. In 2008, he set up shop in Austin. Soon the family moved there from the Dallas area, and Greyt Escape met Lake Travis. By coincidence, the site of Sonny’s new car dealership sat next door to Sail & Ski, Austin’s Sea Ray dealer. The two shops make quite a pair. “We are a Bentley, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and Lotus dealer, so our cars go together with their boats,” he says proudly. Sonny quickly befriended the folks at Sail & Ski, and the two dealerships have teamed up for various parties and sales events.

Post-move, Sonny’s boating lifestyle was, again, just slightly out ahead of his current boat. “I like going up into coves, putting an anchor down,” he says. “I put a rope on the end of my toe, tie it to the boat, lie on a raft and do nothing.” For the more leisurely day-boating popular on Lake Travis, the 320 seemed like too much boat.
Sonny went to Sail & Ski to discuss his options with a salesman.

“We got to talking about what my needs were,” he says. “I wanted a boat that could move—go 50-plus mph. He showed me a new, 2011 250 SLX with the arch on it. Karen fell in love with that boat. I mean, the detail, the workmanship, the amenities, the way the boat was laid out—I couldn’t have drawn it any better.”

These days, the Morgans happily carve up Lake Travis aboard the 250 SLX, Stella Elaine, greyhounds in tow. The boat is a moving symbol of their long love of Sea Rays. Well, at least until their next crush comes along.

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