The public had a glimpse of the prototype of McLay Boats’ new amphibious 741 Raptor at the 2019 Hutchwilco Boat show, and then the On-Water show in Auckland. With the development work now done, Sam Mossman checks it out on the sea and the sand.
Amphibious vehicles are not new. There are cars that go on (and under) the water – who could forget Richard Branson crossing the English Channel in a Gibbs Aquada, or the original Top Gear crew achieving the same thing in a Nissan Ute with an outboard clamped to the tailgate. Then there was James Bond’s submarine Lotus Esprit…
Boats with wheels are even more common. Google ‘amphibious boats’ and you will see what I mean. I grew up in Hawkes Bay’s Clifton Marine Club with its floating trailer system, and when my partner and I pulled into a beach at Tiri’ Island the other weekend for a picnic, there were small inflatable tenders with stern wheels everywhere.
Over the last decade or so there have been a lot of developments in the amphibious boats field. Most of them use pontoons or catamaran hulls to counter the drag and weight of the wheeled running gear and the petrol engine used to drive it. However, there is one Kiwi manufacturer who does it differently.
Well-known South Island builder McLay Boats is based in a state-of-the-art factory in Milton, a town about half-an-hour’s drive south of Dunedin. Owner Steve McLay started the company in 1986, and the marque has gone on to become one of the largest and most respected aluminium boat manufacturers in New Zealand. One of the first boat tests I did for Fishing News, around 30 years ago, was an 18’ McLay hull. I have reviewed many of their boats since, and they have never disappointed.
Company principal Steve McLay is one of nature’s gentlemen but after over three decades in the business, it would be understandable for him to be getting a bit blasé about boats. However, I realised this was anything but the case when he showed me the prototype of his new 741 Raptor amphibian. This new project had him genuinely excited – you could see it in his face – and it soon had me excited, too.
Steve McLay was first approached by Frazer Brown of Tectrax (a Taupo firm that developed and manufacture electric all-wheel-drive running gears for amphibian boats) after the 2018 Hutchwilco Boat Show. Steve tried Tectrax’s test boat on Lake Taupo and became interested.
As mentioned, most makers of amphibians use pontoon or catamaran hulls to counter the weight and any water drag from the wheeled running gear, and just retract the wheels up on the outside of the hull. But McLay wanted to use a conventional monohull that could retract the running gear right inside the hull, with a closing door in the bow to cut the water drag completely once the front wheel is retracted by the two hydraulic rams.
Twin rams deploy the bow wheel.
Tectrax and McLay hired a specialist engineer for the joint project, who came up with a ‘bomb bay door’ – a hydraulic/electrically-operated bow door that allows the boat to travel normally when closed. The two other wheels on the back retract up into wheel arches in the stern quarters, which puts them above the hull line when under way.
There are several advantages to this system. From a fisherman’s point of view, with all the wheels retracted and the forward bomb bay door closed, there is no exposed gear to tangle fishing lines or the anchor warp. The retracted rear wheels also act a little like pontoons, adding stability and buoyancy when the boat is at rest.
Further, because the hydraulics and drive motors for the all-wheel-drive system are electric, they are silent in operation, take up less space and don’t put out emissions.
The system is driven by a 72V marine lithium-iron long-life battery housed in a protective casing up in the transom wall.
The entire Tectrax T3000R AWED system weighs 580kg. It runs at a maximum speed of 8km/hr on land, climbs inclines up to 22 degrees and has a run-time of about 35 minutes. Recharge time for the battery using a standard domestic socket is two hours. McLay Boats uses 6mm bottom plates and keel capping to protect against hull racking when the boat is being driven over uneven ground.
On land, the amphibian is capable of up to 8km per hour.
If it is necessary to transport the Raptor for longer distances by road, it can be driven onto a tandem-axle road trailer. The all-up tow weight is 3400kg and both trailer axles are braked. The road trailer is made by allied company Toko Trailers and features 16 pairs of wobble rollers and an automatically triggered ramp that drops down to accept the bow wheel. Once the boat has been driven onto the trailer, the wheels are all retracted using rocker switches on the dash, and the boat settles onto the trailer. Driving the rig around on land is done with a joystick.
The camera view from the front wheel housing. The rocker switches to the left raise and lower the wheels, while the joystick controls speed and steering.
McLay is very pleased with the operation of the bow door and applied for international patents some months ago.
“So far, nobody has come forward to say they did it first, so it may well be a world first,” Steve told me.
What is the purpose of an amphibious boat like the 741 Raptor? Obviously, if you have either a beach-front property or one nearby with access to the water, you don’t need a tow vehicle or a trailer. Just drive the rig in (or out) of the water, and off you go. It’s particularly great if you are not getting around as well as you used to. It also allows you to make a run from an isolated bach or campsite to a seaside shop or town for a load of supplies. And thinking back to my youth and Clifton Beach with its floating trailers, the Raptor would be ideal for dry-footed surf launching and retrieving, too. The wheels can also be partly retracted to lower the boat and allow easy boarding and disembarking.
What of the layout of the boat itself? Because McLay offer a customising service (the two rigs they have already sold feature quite different layouts) I can only describe the layout on the prototype. Let’s start at the pointy end. A Savwinch drum winch is used with a plough anchor permanently mounted on the bow. This is controlled from the helm. Substantial bow rails are fitted, as is a large hatchway in the forecabin roof. This is mostly for ventilation purposes, as the internal housing for the bow wheel dominates the lined cabin. Kids or smaller adults could use two of the forward bunks, and there is some storage room. The wheel housing includes a viewing window into the wheel cavity, which also has a waterproof camera fitted that displays a forward-looking view on the Simrad multi-function screen. This is handy when loading on the trailer and it also allows you to see where the wheel is. The fore-cabin has an aluminium roller door which makes the fore-cabin lockable, turning it into a great area for securing valuable items.
The wheelhouse features a large dash with dark marine carpeting, back lip and grabrail. The windscreen is curved, toughened glass, as are the side sliders. Two full-width wipers keep the ‘screen clear. I have already mentioned the Simrad MFD, an NSS 16” EVO3 set up with GPS and sounder, as well as the camera and instrumentation. Two USB chargers and a 12V power outlet are also fitted on the dash. Overhead is a Fusion Bluetooth sound system and a GME VHF, along with cabin lighting and more grabrails.
Engine controls are Mercury Smartcraft and steering is hydraulic. Zipwake trim tabs are fitted. There are two lockers (one hatched) in front of the passenger and more stowage space to the sides and under the king-and-queen seats. The helm and passenger seats are upholstered bucket-type with rotating, sliding mounts. The space under the rear-facing bench seats is used by a plumbed livebait tank on one side and a kill tank on the other.
Decking, gunwale tops, the step-through and the engine well are all smartly finished in grey Ultralon.
The level of finish is high. A livebait tank and a kill tank are fitted under the bench seats.
The cockpit is of a decent size, with two levels of side shelves that could fit dive tanks, and plenty of toe room underneath so anglers can work up to the gunwales while staying on balance. A washdown hose is also fitted here.
The Raptor has a decent cockpit, including a fold-down stern bench seat.
The hardtop gives good shelter to the crew (when seated) and supports a cockpit floodlight, an eight-position rocket launcher and grabrails on the trailing edges. A full-width fold-down bench seat is set across the transom wall. The latter houses the lithium-ion battery for the wheel system, as well as the usual house and start batteries, which are enclosed and protected up above the deck. A 2000gph bilge pump with float switch is also fitted in here, and a transom step-through with a drop-door allows easy access out onto the boarding platform. Grabrails and fold-down boarding ladders are fitted to each ‘wheel arch’ for easy boarding, and a removable bait station with cutting board and storage drawer is mounted on the transom top.
House, start and lithium-iron batteries are housed in the transom wall.
Steve McLay picked me up from Dunedin airport on a cloudy morning and a short time later we were down at the Taieri River, where we planned to launch, run down to the entrance and put the 741 Raptor through its paces, on the water and out of it.
Steve had trailered the boat up from Milton and gave me a demo of the unloading and loading sequence, which was relatively straightforward.
Steve, controlling the rig with the joystick, drove it straight down the ramp and into the river, raised the wheels, and we were away. This is a big boat at 7.4m and 2600 kilos, but the powerful Mercury 250hp V8 pushed it up onto plane easily as the forward wheel-bay drained. The handling was launch-like, but Steve was not afraid to throw it around either, with the Zipwake system automatically adjusting the trim. With the bow door closed, the boat cuts through waves like they are not there and is very stable. See the performance figures on page 115.
We tried the amphibious aspects of the Raptor on the sandbar at the Taieri entrance, and a beach on the other side of the entrance. It handled these tasks without issues, climbing a relatively steep beach and running around on the sand easily. Besides the more practical applications, it was great fun and added another aspect to boating.
As expected from McLay Boats, this is a great-looking rig, robustly built with a high level of finish. There is some very clever engineering involved from both McLay Boats and Tectrax to create a practical, not gimmicky, craft. Steve McLay told me it takes about twice as long to build a Raptor as it takes to build a standard hull of this size. This level of manufacture is reflected in costs and at $295,000, it is an expensive toy, but it has an interesting combination of abilities that will make it of considerable interest to some people. McLay has already sold two customised 741 Raptors. A very cool machine! I guess there is a little James Bond in a lot of us.
Configuration: amphibian hardtop
Amphibious system: Tectrax electric
Sides and topsides: 4mm
Deadrise: 18 degrees variable
Weight: on water 2600kg (full fuel)
Recommended power range: 200-250hp
Test engine: Mercury V8 250hp
Prop: Enertia 13” pitch
Fuel capacity: 225 litres underfloor
Tow weight: 3400kg (on transport trailer)
Price as tested: $295,000 (without transport trailer)
Test boat courtesy of: McLay Boats and Tectrax
Power: Mercury 250hp V8 with 13” pitch Enertia prop
Conditions: Freshwater, going with a slight current
Load: Approx 180 lit
Revs Speed Fuel
(RPM) (KPH) (l/hr)
1000 9.5 4.5
2000 14.3 10.5
3000 17.5 22.9
4000 38.6 31.5
5000 52.0 46.9
6000 62.5 84.2
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