I have owned a McLay Fortress 4.8 now for a few years and I have always been impressed with the company, its boats and moreso owner Steve McLay. Steve is one of the most affable people I know in the marine industry and is always keen to see his brand promoted. He is passionate about his product and is continually improving and updating his model range. So when I first saw his brace of new models at the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boats Show, earlier this year, I knew I had to take a closer look. It seems however, that that wasn’t going to happen too quickly, as not only were most of the boats at the show already destined for owners, the follow up was just as frantic, with the factory spending the next few months catching up with orders. “We sold everything we had at the show and since then the factory has been maxed out building hardtops, especially the new models”, says Steve McLay, CEO of McLay Boats.
He says that until the show, the hardtop sales were steady but not great, but since the release of the Gen 2 boats, all that has changed. “We have certainly seen a huge switch in what we build and while all models are popular, it’s the Gen 2 hardtops that are our biggest sellers at the moment. We have sold more than a dozen 701s and 751s since the show, plus are building two 801s at the moment, so we are very pleased with the customer response to our new designs”, says Steve. The current McLay hardtop range comprises ten models, from the Sportsman 591 HT through to the custom built Cruiser 1100.
There are also two models in the CrossXover range, 611 and 651, two in the Premier range, 701 and 801 and a further four in the Cruiser range. The popular Cruiser models start with the 701 and then increase in roughly 500mm increments, from the 751 to the 801 and the 931. The difference in the models is not just size but also appointments and fit out, with some targeting serious fishing and others pitched directly at the cruising and weekender market. Every model is also total customisable. Amongst the ten models (and more are planned), there is a hardtop McLay to suit just about every need.
Same But Different
The difference from the previous McLay hardtop range is two-fold. Firstly and the most obvious is the external styling, with the raised sheer line which gives the boat a much more streamlined look. It also has the advantage of a higher bow, which is
ideal when you are punching through the rough water. There’s also a little more space inside. The other significant change is the new Gen2 boats are wider at the waterline, so in effect, they are more stable and have less of a need for trim tabs to balance the ride, compared to the earlier standard cruisers.
Tabs are still required when there’s a stiff breeze, as all hardtops lean into the wind, but you certainly don’t need to use them as much or as severely. The running surface of the new Gen2 has not changed much with a variable degree deadrise finishing at 18 deg at the transom. The 751 weighs around 1300kg for the hull only and is constructed with 5mm on the bottom, (6mm option) with 4mm topsides and superstructure. The very latest release from McLay Boats, the 751 Gen2 shares the same hull as the 801 Gen2. The extra length of the 801 is gained in the cockpit, but mostly the rest of the layout is the same.
However, this can change, especially with the 801, when some owners opt for a longer wheelhouse, which increases the cabin area by 600mm and lets you get a couple of extra seats or a small galley inside. If you stretch the rear bulkhead out to 900mm, you can then accommodate a rise and fall dinette table that can be transformed into a small double bed. The compromise is you sacrifice some cockpit space. Lockable cabin doors are an option, with side windows.
While the smaller 701 is more of a cuddy cabin, the 751 and 801 have the volume to make them real weekender capable. Forward is the standard style V-berth (2m long bunks), with an infill, good sitting headroom, a plumbed in head and fully lined interior. There is good storage in side trays and under the squabs and an access hatch in the cabin top can be used for ventilation on those hot nights. While test boat had an optional single pipe berth to port, there is space enough for one each side. In total, you can have dedicated berths for five people. You have the option of closing off between the forward cabin and the wheelhouse, which you might want to do if you don’t have a rear bulkhead. However if it were me, I would leave it all open, as it brings a greater feeling of space and doesn’t make the accommodation area look small. The wheelhouse is well set out with a large lined dash that is more than capable of handling all the controls, switches, dials and things that you need to have when you are running a boat this size. Our test boat had a Simrad NSS12 MFD, GME G-Com 600 VHF and a Bluetooth capable Fusion MSRA70 entertainment system.
Standard seating is a pair of swivelling bucket seats, with a back to back option, although these are only available if you don’t have a rear bulkhead. While McLay has made good use of the available space for storage, with the King/Queen seat option you significantly increase that and there is room for an 80-litre chilly bin under one. The big difference over the previous McLay hardtop models of a similar size is the wheelhouse bulkhead has been moved back a further 100mm. This has allowed for a wider rear bench seat (with the addition of a central infill), which also means in its single berth layout it’s wider and more comfortable. However, if you don’t want the bench style seating, there is now enough space to single bolster style seats on pedestals, without changing the bulkhead.
One thing I noticed immediately was the ample head height under the hardtop. There’s plenty for even the tallest of us and the high screens all round offer excellent 360 deg visibility. The curved forward screen is safety glass so you can run a wiper, plus the side windows and rear windows open for some extra ventilation.
The cockpit is open and uncluttered and certainly ideal if you are into fishing. With the rear bulkhead fitted you have a bin seat either side. These can be used for storage or somewhere to fit the fridge/freezer. There are plenty of rod holders around the coamings and in the overhead rocket launcher. Extras like a built-in live bait tank are well worthwhile, as is an additional storage bin. Rods can be stowed in the wide side trays as well as in the optional rocket launcher and the boat comes with a bait board with a built-in tackle drawer under.
I loved the way the bait station slides to one side to expose a large fish bin. Very cool! There’s an optional fold down double seat across the transom that can be locked up out of the way when fishing, with So Pac hatches behind to get into the batteries and extra storage. Access to the boarding platforms (optional rear cage) is over the live bait tank and a fold down alloy ladder makes easy access to and from the water. You can design the transom to suit your needs, with no opening at all or if you want one each side. It’s your call.
When I did finally get on the water with one of the new models, it was a Cruiser 751 HT, which was up north at the Whangarei yard of Warren Hay Marine. Test day was reasonably calm with a swell and some breaking water off Whangarei Heads. We launched at Marsden Cove Marina and then after some speed runs in the calm we headed out to the Heads into some more confused seas. The last McLay I reviewed was Premier 701 Gen 2 on the mirror smooth waters of Lake Wanaka and before that a 775 Hardtop on the super rough Lake Te Anau, so I am very aware of just how well these boats ride in all conditions. Suffice to say when they are big and heavy they ride well and the 751 is no exception.
It’s a soft riding and quiet boat with very little hull noise. The Electrotabs work well and with the strong wind on test day they proved very effective. The new Gen 2 hull has 300mm wide flat chines that taper away well forward and these certainly help with the stability and the soft ride of the boat. The power options are single or twin outboards or a single sterndrive, 200-300hp, with our boat running a single Mercury 250 Verado. This returned a top speed of 33.5 knots @ 6000 rpm, with a fuel consumption of 99 lph. Based on using 90% of the 225-litre fuel tank that gives the rig a range of 67 nm. If you drop that back to 4500 rpm @ 25.8 knots that increases to 110 nm and if you are going to spend the day at trolling speeds, then expect anywhere up to 150 nm from a tank. Overall another great addition to the McLay hardtop range and now with so many models available, Steve has made sure he has just about every size covered. Look also for the 751 to be added to the exclusive Premier range in the future.