McLay 745 Cruiser HT

McLay's new release 745 Cruiser Hard Top attracted a lot of attention at the Auckland Boat Show, so Lindsay Wright went to Nelson to see what the fuss was all about.

McLay 745 Cruiser HT
McLay 745 Cruiser HT
With a few notable exceptions, the Deep South has traditionally held a stranglehold on the hard yakka fishing boat segment of the New Zealand boat market. Conditions off the Otago and Southland coasts can turn to custard very quickly and the local boats are built accordingly.

Markets move on though and Kiwi boaters are more discerning than they used to be, and the southern boat builders have raised the bar accordingly. The bulletproof construction is still there and the strong, sea-kindly hull forms, but the southern boats now come with some of the best finish in the industry and in a range of models to suit all uses.

The McLay 745 Cruiser is one of the new boats out of the Deep South. The company started with Steve McLay building tough alloy boats for blokes to take fishing, from his plant at Milton, 80km south of Dunedin, more than 20 years ago.

Now the company puts over 190 boats on the water per annum, but most McLay boats are still semi-custom craft. "We listen to what the customers want," says manager Neville Gardner, "and build it into our boats".

Most people who bought 750 Cruiser Hard Tops wanted the optional 6mm thick hull plating, so when McLay replaced the 750 with an upgraded 745, it made the 6mm plating standard.

"The 745 is wider, higher and has a higher wash floor height from the waterline," says Gardner. "It's a different, bigger volume boat - the 750 has been around for four years or so and needed an upgrade."

The 745 hull has the same 18-degree deadrise at the transom as her predecessor but, at 2.48m carries extra beam. The deadrise and beam continues well forward to provide a softer ride and help counteract the extra weight of the hard top. Hull length is 7.5m but adding the small bowsprit adds another 0.3m to the overall length. Hull weight is about 1450kg.

A plate was added aft to help with directional stability and spray chines run from the 745's shoulders for about 50cm aft to help tracking. The water deflector that follows the top chine does a good job of throwing stray spray well away from people on deck.

The cruiser part of the boat's design brief soon becomes obvious. This is a boat that will effortlessly lope long distances. The motion is slow and predictable and noise levels rarely exceed that of comfortable conversation, no matter what provocation you give it. Many Nelson owners use their McLays for commuting to and from the Marlborough Sounds or D'Urville Island and it's a role the long-legged boats fill with ease.

Steve McLay still does most of the company's design work and drew the stylish, but generously proportioned hard top to complement the 745 Cruiser's purposeful hull form.

The cabin can be provided with either 300mm, 500mm or 900mm extensions to the back and Totally Boating sales manager, Nick Puklowski, says they are often asked to supply the boats with full liveaboard fitout; kitchen, stove, fridge and toilet.

Several have been built to MSA survey requirements, one of which is used for National Institute Water and Atmospherics (NIWA) research projects and is approved for lifting up to 500kgs from a crane mounted on the cabin top.

The test boat has the standard cabin length and the winter sun, beaming through a cool clear Nelson day, gleams back from the aluminium hull through the Dupont Easy Clear coating.

The McLay looks well proportioned in the water, the 225 horsepower Mercury Verado idling quietly on the stern. Forward motion and a few knots of wind chill factor makes the hard top a welcome investment.

Everything about the McLay signifies staunchness. She must have the highest handrail per metre count of any boat on the market - they're everywhere; on the cabin top and sides, beside the walk through transom, on the foredeck. Combined with the boat's solid feel in the water, the handrail count complements the overall sense of security.

No corners have been cut on the McLay. Even the most inaccessible welds have good penetration and the carpet finish is smooth and well trimmed. A 5mm alloy wear strip welded along the keel is designed to take the graunch out of inadvertent groundings or picnic beachings…it provides a total 11mm of quality marine grade alloy between boaties and boulders.

The portofino stern allows good access and the three-rung boarding ladder easily flops down for access from the water. A rubber pad provides sure footing and stops the ladder from rattling against the tread plate decking. One easy-to-add improvement could be nylon spacers for the stainless steel bolts the ladder hinges on. A standard auxiliary bracket is provided on the port side and a eck wash fitting is fitted in the port side of the stern.

McLay recommends bolting between 175 - 275 horsepower on to the 745 Cruiser and, in the flat water of outer Nelson Harbour, we wound the Verado out to 6000rpm which produced 37 knots (42.5mph/68.5kph) on the GPS speed readout. "We'll put a four bladed prop on it," says Puklowski, "and she'll do 44mph (38.2kts/70.4kph) easily".

The Verado draws its fuel from a 300-litre underfloor tank, with a contents gauge sender unit centrally mounted at the aft end of the cockpit. A welded alloy surge tank takes care of vapours from slopping fuel and breathers are incorporated in the handrails on the stern.

"It burns about 35 litres per hour, cruising at 30 miles per hour (26kts/48kph)," says Puklowski. Two batteries, domestic and starting, are located behind waterproof hatches in the stern, along with isolating switches and a fuel filter.

Underfloor buoyancy is provided by welded tanks which are pressure tested during construction and enclosed when the fully welded 4mm thick tread plate floor is installed. Forward of the fuel tank there is underfloor storage space, about three metres long, 50cm wide and 50cm deep.

One thoughtful feature is that the cabin's bi-fold door cannot be opened while the stowage area hatch is open, to prevent people falling into it. There is also access through a hatch in the cabin floor. Two box seats take up the forward corners of the roomy cockpit with padded tops and generous stowage underneath.

There are no rod holders in the gunwale. Puklowski says McLays believe rod holder placement is a personal thing and leaves it up to owners. Six holders are provided in the racy aerofoil rocket launcher that curves across the cabin top.

Scuppers are fitted through the transom with stainless steel opening and closing handles but, because they intrude on the under stern storage area, the handles will be redesigned in later models, says Puklowski. Two long shelves on either side of the cockpit provide stowage for oars, fenders or fishing gear.

The bilges drain back to a sump which is serviced by an 1100gph Rule bilge pump, accessible through a screw-off panel under the stern.

Outside the harbour there is a slight slop; kicked up by the strong offshore wind blowing against a making tide. The McLay 745 Cruiser comes into her own, though Puklowski grumbles good-naturedly about not having some "real waves" to show her off.

The sense of security is enhanced by the high, wide gunwale and the boat's surefootedness in the water. The Verado pours out heaps of torque right from the first few centimetres of throttle travel, lifting the big boat straight out of the hole and onto the plane. The hull's generous reserve buoyancy forward help take on the swells with a soaring motion, devoid of kidney-killing thumps and pounding.

Inside the cabin there is a good sized double vee berth forward with room for my 1.86m frame to comfortably spread out. McLay's characteristic solid alloy hatch allows good access to the chain locker, double roller bowsprit and windlass. The 745 Cruiser's hatch measures 1100mm by 750mm. "They've got some big boys down at the factory," says Puklowski, "they don't like squeezing through piddly little plastic hatches."

There is provision for a toilet (either chemical or flushing) beneath the bunk; carpeted ledges and bins underneath on each side, give heaps of room for storage.

One of the McLay's smartest ideas is the padded insert that makes up a bench seat across the cabin. With the door closed, and the padded back piece in place, there is room for four people to sit comfortably across the cabin and keep an eye on progress through the tinted 6mm thick strengthened glass windows. The side windows slide for extra ventilation and, with 20 knots of wind on the beam, did not admit any spray or water.

At the helm seat, the wheel and engine controls fall easily to hand and the Mercury power-assisted hydraulic steering package fitted to the Verado makes light work of throwing the 745 around. Large bins under the two permanent seats provide even more stowage space. McLay hasn't been shy with handrails here either: every open space comes with an alloy handrail.

The back bulkhead of the hard top is optional, Puklowski explains. "It's sort of a North/South thing," he says. "In five years I've sold about 130 McLays in Nelson and Marlborough - and only one didn't have a lock up cabin - but it's quite common up north."

Total towing weight is about 2.5 tonnes on a dual axle, hydraulically-braked Toko trailer.

Base prices for the 745 Cruiser Hard Top hull start at $45,000 but as tested, with 225hp Verado and RayMarine electronic package(including trim tabs) the boat will set you back $113,000.

It's hard to fault the design, build or finish. Inside the cabin, the McLay fills its cruiser role with ease, but back out on deck the boat is all business - southern style.

LOA: 7.8m
Beam: 2.48m
Deadrise at transom: 18 degrees
Transom height: 0.65m
Freeboard: 0.78m
Hull thickness: 6mm (4mm topsides and cabin)
Recommended hp: 175 - 275
Engine options: outboard or inboard/outboard
Hull weight: 1450kg
Towable weight: approx 2500kg
Fuel: 300 litres
Bilge pump: 1100gph electrical
Max speed (as tested): 37 knots at 6000rpm
Designer: Steve McLay
Supplier: Totally Boating, Akersten Street, Port Nelson

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