Usually, when something is right, you leave well enough alone. For Steve McLay, the fact that a particular hull already had a great reputation wasn’t enough. Taking note of comments from owners and dealers and determined to get the best from his boats, McLay designed a few subtle modifications into the bottom of the well-proven 600 Series and the results were surprising.
McLay boats have a reputa- tion for good offshore handling and seakeeping and in the field of aluminium boat production are among the best. Started in a general engineering shop in the small Otago town of Milton, the name of McLay Boats took a few years to spread north and it wasn’t until the company had shown its wares at a few New Zealand Boat Shows and established a solid dealer network that the marque gained national status. Production now runs at around 150 boats a year and most dealers are on a strict allocation, which puts something of a premium on the product.
For whatever reason, I have never had a lot to do with the McLay boats, but over recent years have been hearing more and more good comments. John Eichelsheim, editor of NZ Fisherman magazine raves about his McLay and the ex-editor of Sea Spray magazine, Shane Kelly says he dreams of owning one. With that aboard, I was keen to secure one of the very latest in the range, the McLay 610 Sport, which was first unveiled at the recent New Zealand Boat Show.
The McLay 610 Sport uses the same hull as the basic unpainted Fisherman and Cruiser versions but that’s where the similarities end. From the gunnel up it’s all different and with a $4000 up-charge, it’s more than just a painted version of a serious fishing boat.
To start, there’s the deck line which has a nicely rolled edge replacing the hard angles around the cabin top and this is carried along the coamings to the transom. While you may miss the flat sitting areas for fishing or before you roll over the side for a dive, you do gain a little more cockpit height and also a good handrail.
The finish inside is closer to a fibreglass boat with plenty of fabric trim and hardly a hint of aluminium anywhere. You also get a lot for your extra dollars, such as ski pole, auxiliary bracket, cabin lights, glove box, cabin shelves, padded squabs in the cabin, removable carpet in the cockpit, four rod holders, double shelves on each side and a switch panel.
There’s lots more besides, but for a base price of $23,560, it’s reasonable buying. Drop it on a single axle trailer and bolt on a Suzuki 140 EFI and the whole lot will set you back around $43,000.
The 610 hull is not totally new and in its previous life was the basis of the 600 Cruiser, Fisherman and Sport. The new fully-welded boat now has a 5mm bottom and 4mm side construction with strakes and side folds rolled inGirders run fore and aft and are welded onto the inside folds of the strakes and then spot welded to the floor for rigidity. The result is a boat that feels stiff, especially in choppy seas. With a solid sub- frame and generous hull thickness the 610 isn’t one of your lighter boats, weighing in at 675kgs.
Changes to the bottom of the 610 have seen the entry point now fuller and not so sheer and this has certainly contributed to a softer ride and landing, with the boat feeling more stable in the water. The wider spray rails make it a lot drier than the 600 series and alterations to the mid section and deeper vee increase bow lift. You don’t get pounding under your feet in a short choppy sea that you sometimes found in the 600.
When I first ran the boat, the sea state was like glass and interestingly, the hull just wouldn’t lift in the bow, seeming to suck to the water. No amount of outboard trim would alter its flat angle of attack. However the next time on the water we had a typical Auckland Harbour chop and that’s when the hull came free. I needed less out-trim, with the 610 lifting up onto its strakes and riding clean with the water peeling back from directly beneath the helm.
I can also confirm that the stability of the boat at rest is excellent, tested by four people hanging over one side looking at a stingray underneath the boat basking in the shallows.
The 610 Sport is rated from 100 – 225hp, and is ideally suited around 130-150hp. The Suzuki EFI we had on the test boat was brand new with less than an hour on it so it was still being ‘run in’. At 5600 rpm top speed was around 46 mph, although I’m certain this will nudge up towards 50mph when the engine frees up. Acceleration was positive and the response through the range as you would expect from a fuel injected engine was excellent. A 115hp would top out around 40mph and if you are a speed demon, anything over 200 hp will see the speedo climb past 60 mph, which is in my opinion, far too much for a boat like this, although having seen one perform with a 225 hp it is more than capable of handling the power.
The standard seating layout is swivelling bucket seats forward, with the option of twin rear seats incorporating fish bins. These bins are reasonably heavy and although not fixed to the cockpit sole will stay in place in most conditions and are ideal to move out of the way when fishing or wanting access to the transom. With the lids off they will slide away under the rear deck area, but you have to toss the cushions in the cabin. Seating options include forward king/queen back to backs or a combination of one swivel and one back to back.
Storage is provided either side with twin full length lockers which I found large enough for my water-skis, and extra long fishing rods, but not for the wake board. The wide lower shelf, constructed of folded aluminium, is strong enough to stand on and wide enough to take at least a couple of rods each. There are also a couple of short shelves forward, ideal for keys, mobile phone or camera. A nice touch is a small rear upstand that stops anything rolling back.
But it doesn’t finish there and while there is no under floor storage, there are two more lockers in the aft deck, each finished with flush mounted covers, in our case, one being used for the battery, the other for stowing the ski rope and fenders. There’s also a flush-mounted locker in the cabin bulkhead forward of the passenger seat, space under the forward bucket seats and plenty of area for spare tote tanks, tackle boxes or dive gear under the aft deck.
The McLay 610 Sport has an under-floor 125 litre fuel tank that is sealed in its own compartment and can be removed for maintenance or repair without breaking into any of the under floor sealed areas. With the move towards making boats more buoyant these days, McLay have taken the step of having enough buoyancy in the 610 so it will still float upright with the cockpit and cabin completely full with water.
I found the driving position excellent with good visibility when seated and plenty of all round vision when standing. Again, there is a need for an adjustable seat base and the footrest is a must. The facia is large enough to handle all the necessary instruments and panels and there is space either below the screen or on the lower part of the facia for electronics. A small upstand would be a good addition to stop things rolling off into the cockpit. A nice touch is the two built-in handrails and the rolled edges around the access to the cabin area.
Inside, the McLay 610 Sport is very much set up to cater for day cruising or to get out of the weather. I was just able to lay full length on the squabs and the sitting headroom inside is adequate for 2 to 4 adults of average height. Again, good use has been made of storage areas with wide side shelves, foam backrests and cavernous areas under the squabs. The cabin top, half bulkheads, shelves, sole and even inside the storage compartments under the squabs are lined in marine grade carpet and accentuate the image that McLay is setting with this model. You also have the option of having full size bulkheads and a lockable cabin.
You have a choice when anchoring of either walking around the wide side deck or doing it all a lot easier via the big forward hatch. The 610 Sport has a huge anchor locker, wide fairlead and solid alloy bollard. Then there’s always the option of an automatic system for people like me.
At the other end, McLay have come up with a very smart transom area with a full width boarding platform that is low to the waterline, has a high fuel filler position (although it could do with a drip tray), built-in handrails and an auxiliary bracket that also acts as the entry point for all the engine cables and fuel line. Neat, tidy and you don’t trip over everything! There’s even a special tube already in place to take the transducer coaxial cable as well as a small external bracket to mount it.
The difference between the 600 and the 610 is that the outboard pod area has now been filled in and forms part of the extended hull. This 250mm extension is only available on the 610 Series at this stage.
Overall, the new McLay 610 Sport is a boat for all reasons. Dive, fish, water ski, or take the father-in-law fishing, the 610 Sport is nicely targeted to all sectors. This is not a serious fishing boat and it was never designed to be, but take my word for it you can just as easily catch a10kg snapper from this cockpit as the 610 Fisherman. It rides better than the previous 600 Series and the finish throughout is excellent.
Personally I like all the trimmings, but then this may not find favour with the serious fisherman or diver. The fact that you can have all the attributes of ride, performance and big undisturbed cockpit space in the Fisherman or even the Cruiser version is a bonus. It’s a boat with a lot of innovations and it’s these small things that many of the production boat builders (glass or alloy) tend to miss. No boat is perfect and in fact they are nearly all a compromise, but the McLay 610 Sport goes a long way to getting it right.