EVERY now and then I come across a boat with a fit and finish so fine it’s akin to a luxury car.
This was exactly the case when I hit Moreton Bay in the McLay 651 CrossXover Hardtop, which is interesting as this boat is marketed as a hard-core fishing weapon. Leading up to this boat test, McLay’s reputation for producing rugged and durable fishing boats to handle the wild conditions often experienced in the brand’s New Zealand home waters had me thinking this rig might be a bit rough and ready.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The bigger brother to the 611 CrossXover Hardtop, the 651 is aggressively styled to make an impact on the water, both figuratively and literally, with a hull hell bent on punching spray a long way out either side of the boat yet still providing a soft and stable ride.
It seems whenever I test a small boat the conditions are terrible but when a big offshore boat is on the menu it’s a glass-out. And so was the case on the day of testing the 651 CrossXover, with nary a wave to be seen on sometimes sloppy Moreton Bay. Supplied by Karee Marine, the test boat was fitted with Mercury’s latest-generation 200hp FourStroke motor, which certainly made a design statement.
Featuring a maintenance-free valvetrain, dual overhead cams and Transient Spark Technology, the new 3.4-lite V6 from Mercury is an absolute cracker. Heading out from the Raby Bay ramp, the heavily sloped cowl on the Mercury caused me to second guess the engine’s trim position, but the awesome VesselView Link display on the Simrad NSS evo3 assured me it was trimmed correctly.
Well, better punch it then! Wow, hole shot from the big Mercury was instant, and damn it sounded good.
Emitting a throaty growl as load was applied, the big-displacement V6 could almost be mistaken for a sizeable V8, both in terms of noise and performance.
Working in concert with the McLay’s exceptional hull, the big black motor had us on the plane with next to no bow lift and minimum effort. Being a brand-new motor, I was hesitant to give it full throttle, but at 5100rpm (700rpm shy of the limiter), we had the 1000kg hull (dry) fairly cooking along at 66km/h.
Playing around with props would easily see this combo topping 80km/h once revved out, which is more than quick enough for most. Especially when as tested a happy and economical cruising speed was 50km/h at 4000rpm.
Making the most of a sizeable 175-litre underfloor fuel tank, driven sensibly this is not a combo in which you’d get range anxiety.
However, I found it somewhat hard to drive sensibly because the rolling mid-range urge of the 200hp Mercury V6 was genuinely addictive. Chugging along at 40km/h feeling totally invincible in hardtop comfort, aggressively punching the throttle resulted in neck-snapping acceleration.
The motor just felt so muscular and I couldn’t get enough of it, constantly bringing the revs back and spinning the steering wheel, only to drop the hammer again and experience the acceleration rush as we flew over any boat wakes we could find. Properly good fun.
As mentioned, McLay Boats is based in New Zealand, where far less than favourable offshore conditions mean boats need to be built tough. I think it’s time for a spec check. The McLay 651 CrossXover measures 6.6m long and is built with 5mm bottom sheets, 4mm sides with 720mm of freeboard, a 4mm welded floor across a 2.3m beam and a full-length keel protection strip for fearlessly pulling up on rough sand and rubble.
Additionally, the CrossXover range incorporates hundreds of litres of closed-cell foam under the gunwales from the transom to the anchor bay as well as underfloor buoyancy. This super-tough and safe design ethos contributes to the 651 CrossXover’s feeling of invincibility when sitting in the comfy bolstered helm seat and cruising across whatever the ocean throws at you.
It didn’t matter at what angle or speed I attacked the boat wakes in the bay (the only waves around), the big McLay just flattened them and refused to be flustered. While demolishing waves, I felt the snazzy McLay-embossed footrest moving ever so slightly and wondered if it had come loose.
Of course it hadn’t, as Trevor from Karee showed me the footrests are removable to make way for additional bunk cushions that slot neatly between the existing cushions and helm seats to ensure even a pro basketballer would feel comfortable sleeping in the cabin. This simple yet thoughtful touch was not a one-off, as smart design was everywhere to be seen throughout the McLay’s interior.
For example, the fully carpeted dash, cabin interior and hardtop underside minimised the booming echo that can resonate through the hull of many plate boats, making for one of the quietest plate rides I’ve experienced. Stepping out from under the hardtop and back into the cockpit, you’re presented with beautiful Nyalic clear coated, brushed aluminium surfaces on all sides.
Nyalic is a self-annealing and ‘repairable’ clear coat finish that is super hard-wearing and smooth, designed to last the life of the boat. The test boat was optioned with the full Ultralon synthetic flooring kit (usually checker plate alloy floor) that extended to the gunwale tops and rear platform.
I am a huge endorser of all the new-generation synthetic floor coverings and much prefer them to exposed checker plate or carpet. Not only do they look great, they’re super hard wearing, non-slip, easy to clean and feel awesome under foot.
An option well worth ticking in my books.
Elsewhere out back the thoughtful design touches continued, with genuinely useable side pockets, a fold-down rear lounge that tucked up flat (and locked in) with the rear platform to maximise fishing room, a plumbed live bait tank with Perspex viewing window, recessed section to allow access in and out of the boat and chunky boarding ladder, hand rails and bollards.
I also came across one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a boat. The solid bait board with tackle tray is fitted on a slide, so by unhooking a bungee cord, you can easily slide the whole bait board assembly left to open up a capacious storage cubby that could be a kill tank or whatever you want it to be.
It’s just another example of the engineering and design smarts evidenced throughout this awesome boat. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found the passenger side seat base housed an 80-litre ‘chilly bin’ able to be pulled out and slid securely back in place, while the driver’s side incorporated two tackle trays and a big storage compartment.
I’m sure with more time aboard I would have continued to find ‘Easter egg’ design features all through the big plate rig.
I think it’s obvious by now that I’m quite smitten with the McLay 651 CrossXover and wouldn’t hesitate in dropping the cash on Trevor’s desk to take the big rig home (if I had any cash, ha!).
The tested package is available now from Karee Marine for a smidge over $100,000 (including all optional extras), and I can whole-heartedly say it’s worth every cent.
To book a water test and get a hands-on idea of what the McLay CrossXover range is about, contact Trevor at Karee Marine today on 07 3875 1600, visit kareemarine.com.au or stop by the yard at 1776 Ipswich Rd, Rocklea.