Tristram 661 Millennium (1997 – 2007)

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Tristram 661

While the new Tristram 661 may not be around for another 1000 years, it will certainly see its way into the new millennium. Winner of the 1997 Trailerboat of the Show award at the NZ Boat Show, the Tristram 661 Millennium is undeniably a statement of kiwi craftsmanship.                               

The 661 Millennium didn’t  just happen, it evolved.  The  final product is the end result of three years of planning and research that included overseas trips to look at the latest trends and moulding ideas and the incorporation of the best of Tristram’s own proven concepts. Right from the stem angle and keel shape to the chine lines and curvature of the bow, there is a family resemblance to other models in the Tristram range, but that’s where the similarity ends.

The style is a mix of Kiwi, European and American that isn’t going to date in a hurry. The swept-up deckline gives the boat nice flowing lines and the impression of depth from the outside without looking bulky. Due to the raised self draining cockpit the extra coaming height is really necessary. A swageline through the centre of the hull sides adds a little character and takes away what could have been a slab-sided look.

Although based on similar hull concepts to the Tristram 550/521 the real difference is in the deck and the whole layout of the boat. Dive bottle storage, fish bins, seating, storage lockers and even rod racks are all from individual moulds, or form part of the very complex deck mould.

The attention to detail that has been achieved in the 661 Millennium, you’ll find in few other trailerboats, either local or imported. With such sophisticated moulding , Tristram Boats Managing Director, Lance Fink admits it’s a complex boat to build (there are 20 different moulds), but to achieve the high level of finish and looks he required, there was no option. Eighty percent of the moulds are two or three piece (split), such as the dash, seat base, anchor hatch and transom locker door and just to complicate the issue there are reverse flanges on all openings. When you look around and see the stainless steel hinges with nylon bushings and the fastenings carefully hidden away and even special drain systems on the rod holders you start to appreciate the extra that has gone into the preparation of the new Tristram 661 Millennium. However, despite taking more than twice as long to build as a traditional 6.6m boat, the final price doesn’t reflect it. At $37,000 for the base boat it is price competitive, especially considering what you get for your money.

            This is a boat that you would have to be very picky to find any serious fault with. It is a New Zealand designed and built boat for local conditions and the variety of applications that kiwi boaties expect from their boats. Fishing is catered for with rod holders, rod racks, live bait tanks, removable half carpet and a self draining cockpit.  As an overnighter you have a fully plumbed toilet, 2.1m twin berths and provision for an optional cooker and freshwater facilities (30 litre) in the cockpit. There’s space to tuck away 12 tanks for divers and the boarding platform is easily accessible from the water. For the casual day cruise or fun skiing you have a highly optioned craft that gives you a little of everything, but not so much of one thing that it shows a bias.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

With the reputation of the 550 and 521 behind it, the 661 starts with an excellent on-the-water pedigree and I was keen to try it. It’s a big volume boat with a 22 degree deep-vee hull that likes big power. Our test boat was number one out of the mould and came with a Johnson 200 Oceanrunner. Tristram’s have a good reputation as being excellent handling boats in the moderate water and don’t do anything unusual when the sea conditions turn really sour.

            I had the opportunity to run the 661 in both a short steep harbour chop and on glassy smooth sea conditions. With three aboard, 3/4 fuel, the throttle hard down and the trim set midway, the Johnson 200 ran to 5600rpm @ 46mph. Bolt on a 225hp outboard and you can be guaranteed of 50mph plus.  Although a 175hp V6 is probably good for around 42mph, I wouldn’t recommend running anything less. This is a boat that feels like it wants to run fast, so it likes a bit of power!

I had aboard for the test, our performance columnist, Craig Archer, who was impressed with the handling and driveability of the boat in the .5 to 1m confused seas off Tiri Tiri Island. Running across the breaking swells at 30mph (4000rpm), the 661 tracked well and had a soft re-entry.  As we were taking the waves on the forward quarter, we picked up a fair amount of spray at this speed as you would expect, although it was quickly dispatched over the canopy. It was a good leak test, with the screen and canopy scoring 100%. The riding attitude got better at higher speeds and I found myself pushing the boat to the max and loving it.

            The throttle response is good and the boat will climb onto the plane easily even at half trim. Mid-range response was excellent although I did miss that extra top end power of the bigger engine option. The boat blazed through all manoeuvres and when pushed hard off swell after swell, it landed smoothly without so much as a rattle. The quietness and soft riding attitude of the hull speaks volumes about the boat’s design and construction.

WELL THOUGHT OUT

The first impression I had of the cockpit was the space and yet also the fact that storage areas are well thought-out. Forward there is a massive underfloor locker which holds five big size dive bottles or all the family’s snorkelling gear. Beneath the clip-on carpet there are two fully plumbed live bait tanks that are set up to drain together. Due to the height of the self draining cockpit there is space beneath for a 250 litre stainless fuel tank, which can easily be removed should the need ever arise.

            Either side of the cockpit, moulded units look after fishing rods, saltwater washdown unit and smaller lockers forward are designed to fit the VHF and CD player. Carpet in-fills and fixed lighting are a nice touch. Good utilisation of space around the transom sees storage for batteries and oil tank and access to the bilge pump, battery isolating switch and bait tank pumps.

            I would have liked to see an external oil filler and a more accessible placement of the fuel and water filter.  A clip on cushion on the aft coaming gives you extra seating alongside a rear moulded seat and you have the option of a skipole or central bait board that drains into the engine well. Wet gear, spare warp or fenders can be stowed in an external wet locker.

This is the only boat in the country that has a genuine walnut instrument panel as standard. The neatly designed curved facia incorporates a full array of white/grey faced OMC instruments that are positioned prominently and easy to read. The dash is arranged to take flush mounted electronics exclusively, with only enough space for the compass below the armourplate screen. Even the Morse helm pump has been given its own recess in the mould so it doesn’t protrude too far out.

            Tristram have gone that one step further by recessing the windscreen base into the cabin top and even incorporating external drain holes so it doesn’t leak. To achieve the desired rake on the screen, a lot of time went into curving the side panels so they gave the right look.

            Another nice touch is the teak trim around the bulkhead storage lockers, as a grabrail for the passenger and also on the footrests.

            The carpet fits into a recessed floor mould, so there’s no danger of lifting an edge. The back half can be removed for fishing and there’s even a generous anti-skid pattern on the cockpit sole. Self draining holes in the back corners drain through to a common collector and go straight out the transom.

When you order a Tristram 661 you have multiple choice seating built into the price structure. The twin pedestal option is formed out of the deck mould or you can have separate three piece moulded back to backs. These have reverse sheer bases which offer a wider gap between the forward seats for a toe recess. There’s even the  option of having no seats at all, or a combination of all the above.

            The pedestal seat has a split level locker with perspex door built in and the back to back a vast storage area, accessed via a hinged rear section. Our test boat had twin back to backs which I personally found just right when standing or seated to drive. The placement was the best compromise.

PLUMBED HEAD

The cabin layout is a conventional large V berth, with good deep  storage either side in separate  lockers underneath and a toilet in the centre. An infill makes up a generous double berth. There are also vinyl pockets on the rear bulkheads for charts and small items and L shape storage shelves either side incorporate a nice backrest.

            Headroom is 900mm and overhead you’ll find a low profile  custom made Weaver hatch, which is placed far enough forward to  allow you to do your anchoring without getting out on the deck. However with the fully automatic Maxwell Freedom fitted you can do it all without leaving the helm anyway.

            At the risk of being boring, the attention to detail oozes everywhere, even to the cabin top which has been foam backed inside so that the fabric headlining sits flush, rather than following the contours of the mould and the bulkhead mounted triangle shaped mirror especially shaped to better suit the overall impression.

With full bulkheads, you have the option of cabin doors to maintain total privacy and security and there’s plenty of light via the overhead hatch and long narrow side windows. Due to the raised cockpit sole, the cabin floor is lower,  although a hidden drain under the carpet ensures you’re not left with a puddle inside. The water drains under the fuel tank and special built-in buoyancy chambers.

            About six inches below the chine there’s an independent floor running transom to bow. Where the deck mould, (which incorporates the cockpit floor) meets, the whole lot is glued together and the result is a very stiff and strong construction. This also forms a double layer of air tight cavities either side, which gives the 661 a heap of inbuilt buoyancy. The only foam under floor is in the cabin, but this also doubles as insulation around the moulded ice bin incorporated in the cabin steps.

CONCLUSION

The Tristram 661 is designed to fit in-between the 6.5m – 7.0m range, meet towing regulations, be capable of being stored in the garage and still easily handled at a boat ramp. It meets all the criteria (and then some) as an all-rounder and is  immaculate in all aspects of design, layout and construction. Individual accents in the hull and deck lines personalise the boat and make a definitive statement about just where this boat is being pitched. It gets top marks for style and has the handling and performance to match. 

            The 661 Millennium is a cut above its competitors if only for the finite attention to every  detail that the majority of manufacturers of production boats wouldn’t even bother with.  Development costs were huge and I believe it will sell more books because of it.   There’s no question, the Tristram 661  Millennium is a superbly engineered craft that stands alone. It is built 50% above the new CPC code for laminating and engineering and is the first local  production boat offered with an 8 year structural warranty.

            In 1994 Tristram won the Trailerboat of the Show with the 550SS Cuddy. Two years later they picked it up again for the 521SS and this year the 661  Millennium beat off a strong field of challengers. The fact that every year they have released a new boat at the New Zealand Boat Show they have won the award says a lot for the company and the team behind it.

            Buying a new Tristram 661 Millennium is like buying a new Mercedes 500 SL. You don’t need to test drive the Mercedes either.

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