McLay Boats’ CrossXover series of models was its top seller last year, and the range continues to expand. Sam Mossman takes a look at the latest of this popular design: the 651 Hardtop.
It is a couple of years since McLay Boats introduced their thennew range of CrossXover hulls. The overall concept was to have a good-looking, well-finished boat possessing a wide range of layout options that could alter the application from a general-purpose family boat to a hard-core fish and dive machine. They proved to be popular with the boating public and by last year the range was the company’s biggest seller.
The three initial models, the 561, 581 and 601, were joined by the 611 Hardtop last year, and the CrossXover 651 HT was released at the Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show in Auckland this year – a 6.6m hardtop available in open-back and fully-enclosed versions.
Six metre-class boats are very popular – they’re big enough to carry a crew of four or more and fish offshore, but still affordable, towable and fairly easy to launch. Hard-tops are a favoured configuration, providing shelter from wind, spray, rain and the blazing sun of summer.
Opinions vary over preference between open-backed hard-tops or the enclosed versions. The open-backed construction allows for more work space and better ventilation, along with improved communication between the helm and the cockpit if game fishing. The enclosed layout can offer more protection, more comfort when overnighting, and the security of locking up your equipment. The 651 is available in both configurations.
After being displayed at this year’s Hutchwilco Boat Show in Auckland, the test boat was delivered to Auckland McLay agent, Fish City Albany. During a short window in a whole lot of dodgy weather, I took the rig for a run out of Gulf Harbour in the company of Rob Gale and Steve Davis, both from Fish City.
Rated for 135-225hp, the test boat is powered by a 150hp Mercury three-litre four-stroke. Spinning a 17-inch pitch prop, we achieved the performance figures in the table hereabouts; the top speed of about 33 knots is pretty decent considering the 150 Merc is towards the bottom end of the recommended power range. The maximum revs produced were 5000 and the engine’s book figures are 5000-5800rpm, so the prop is a reasonable choice. Dropping from the 17-inch pitch prop to the 15-inch pitch model might produce a few more revs – and a bit more torque, if required for skiing etc.
The hull’s construction includes a 5mm bottom, 4mm sides and topsides, and a 4mm sealed treadplate deck that drains to a sump under the transom wall fitted with an 1100gph bilge pump.
The deadrise is 18 degrees variable and there are two low-profile strakes to each side of the keel line. A substantial wear strip is added along the keel line. The chines are wide and slightly downand out-turned at the edges, giving the boat excellent stability at rest and helping turn spray aside when travelling.
The CrossXover hulls vary the most from their predecessors in the portofino stern’s racy angle and gunwale’s construction. Enlarged internal gunwales are filled with about 400 litres of expanded closed-cell foam, complementing the existing underfloor buoyancy chambers. This boat is rated for up to eight passengers and can be built to survey. McLay Boats supplied a Marine Naval Architect’s swamp test approval, stating that, with the 400 litres of foam buoyancy in the gunnels, it passes both buoyancy and upright stability tests.
The level of finish is excellent, especially noticeable at the chine join. The cabin and wheelhouse are fully lined (contributing to the lack of noise when underway) and the outside is finished with either a smart metallic bronze paint or Nyalic.
McLay’s boats are supplied on Toko Trailers (an allied company); in this case a tandem-axle model is used, with zinc-protected leafspring suspension, six pairs of wobble rollers per side and a pair for the bow. Other features include: hydraulic brakes; wind-down jockey wheel; submersible LED lights; and a Trailer Mate bow catch. Options include brake and wheel upgrades and guide poles. Tow weight is around 1800kg.
When we left the ramp at Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland, sea conditions were very good, but by early afternoon there was a 12-knot wind-against-tide situation which kicked up a short, steep, half-metre chop. The trial boat was the enclosed hard-top version, and we stayed snug and dry when travelling. With the lockable bi-fold door shut, the sound of the already quiet four-stroke 150hp Merc was hardly noticeable.
The 651 is a soft traveller, and in the short, steep head sea, performed best with the bow trimmed high. A set of Lectrotab trim tabs helped adjust for side wind and loading, and the SeaStar hydraulic steering made light work of the helm.
The engine is controlled by one of Mercury’s new generation side-mounted throttle/shift units. Although a cable unit, it is silkysmooth and you could be forgiven for thinking it was a digital system.
The test boat has been left fairly simple in layout. After all, it is easier to add fittings to a customer’s requirements if you don’t have to rip stuff out first. The bow is easily accessed through an over-sized forward hatchway with grab rails to each side. Anchoring duty is handled by a Savwinch drum winch under a separate hatch in the bow. With remote anchoring from the helm, a swing-arm fairlead, permanently mounted anchor and separate warp feeder, there is little need to get up on the bow. A bollard is welded to the foredeck for mooring, and substantial bow rails are also fitted.
As mentioned, the cabin (and wheelhouse) are fully lined, with under-berth stowage available. Considerable care has been taken to construct comfortable berths, with infills, removable footrests and extensions allowing full-length sleeping for three adults. The footrests have been customised for McLay from SeaDek material. SeaDek is a non-skid, closed-cell product made from UV-protected non-absorbent EVA foam. Various finishes and thicknesses are available, and custom logos, text and graphics can be added into the design.
Out in the wheelhouse, a bridging system between the helm and passenger seats forms a full-width bench seat that can double as another berth if necessary. The seats have internal stowage, complementing stowage in the side shelves, two glove boxes and a large dash. The grab rails are also marine-carpet covered, helping keep hands warm.
The ‘screens and sliding side windows are toughened glass and two wipers are fitted. Merc engine gauges are fitted, along with a Simrad GPS-sounder, the usual switching, winch control, 12-volt and USB charging ports. A GME VHF radio and cabin lights are mounted overhead. Two drop-down cavity windows in the rear cabin bulkhead allow better ventilation and communication with the cockpit.
Out through the lockable cabin door is a decent-sized cockpit. Two bench seats against the bulkhead provide internal stowage that could accommodate a gas cooker or freshwater system if required.
Large side shelves under the gunwales look as if they could take dive tanks, fenders, paddles or whatever. The gunwales themselves are of a decent size. As mentioned, their foam fill is designed to float the hull upright, should the excreta ever hit the oscillator, but they also provide a wide Deck Tread-covered perch to sit on, a flat face to lean against (continued across the transom wall), and there is plenty of toe-space underneath.
These last two features, added to the tread-plate deck with Heronair textured matting and the innate stability of the hull, make for an excellent fishing platform.
The transom features a step-through section on the port side, with a drop door over a live-bait tank fitted with a front window. The rest of the transom face folds down to form an upholstered bench seat, exposing two hatches opening onto the battery locker, isolation switching and more stowage. A single battery was fitted in the test boat, but there is plenty of room for a multiple system.
Over the transom is a large boarding platform with non-skid finish, grab rails and fold-down ‘T’-type boarding ladder on the port side, making life easy for divers and swimmers. Stern cleats are part of the fit-out too, and the fuel port is situated on the outside of the transom to keep any potential fuel spills out of the cockpit.
As mentioned, the 651 provides an excellent basic fish and dive platform. Fishing fittings include: four alloy through-gunwale rod holders; an eight-position rocket launcher and cockpit floodlight on the hardtop; the live-bait tank already mentioned; and a removable work station with a storage drawer. This work station has a non-skid finish to stop gear from sliding around, but could no doubt be fitted with a cutting board and extra rod holders if required. In fact, the list of options available for this boat is long, allowing a fit-out that suits the needs of any given owner, ranging from a family sports boat to stay-away, multi-purpose use, or the creation of a hard-core fish-and-dive machine.
Rob, Steve and I gave the fishing aspects a little try to complete the test. The boat was great to fish from – comfortable, stable and with plenty of room. Despite encountering a bit more wind than was ideal and it being the middle of the day in the middle of winter, there was still the odd pannie snapper about. So, after throwing a few soft-baits around, we managed dinner at least.
THE NEW McLAY CrossXover 651 has extra length over its smaller brother the 611, allowing enough room to fit the bulkhead and door that can provide a locking cabin if this is your preference. Both hardtop options offer shelter from the elements right through the year, yet the 651 remains reasonably easy to tow and launch. It is a decent sea boat which is blue-water capable, good-looking, with a high level of finish, and – with a wide range of layout options available – there is considerable flexibility of application. A boat for all seasons.
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