A Real Stronghold: McLay’s 4.8m Fortress
  |  First Published: November 2011

The McLay Fortress 4.8m aluminium boat is the next step up from the 4.4m model reviewed some time back and follows the family tradition of being a super solid, reliable small craft that is well suited to the angler.

Regular readers will recall that I was mightily taken with the smaller 4.4 and the 4.8 Fortress is every bit as impressive.

McLay boats are manufactured in New Zealand where they have won plenty of boat show awards for the quality of their boats, and for a boat to be a success in NZ, particularly one that can be used offshore, it has to be good. The McLay range has been a feature in Reef Marine Mackay’s new boat products for almost 10 years and director Greg Camilleri vouches for their build quality. In fact he has never had a warranty issue with McLay products in that time.

So what sets McLay’s 4.8m Fortress apart from the usual run of tinnies?

A peek over the side of the boat while it is sitting on the trailer shows one of the big differences with this boat. There is a fully welded in 3mm tread plate floor running the length of the boat and this gives the hull tremendous strength and rigidity. McLay owners never have to worry about plywood floors rotting out or buckling, that’s for sure.

The checker plate floor is not just tack welded around the edges either. There is a full length alloy beam running down the centreline, and the floor is also welded to this. Again this beam provides considerable structural strength to the entire hull, and does not just support the floor.

Not only does the floor give strength, but it also provides for a fully sealed airtight chamber beneath the floor. This chamber means that the McLay is a super quiet tinnie and normal conversation levels are no problems even at high speed. Of course this also provides for additional safety as it is in effect a huge buoyancy chamber.

The next thing that caught my eye was the actual hull configuration, which again is very different from the norm.

McLay boats are formed from rolled aluminium rather than pressed plate, and this allows a certain freedom of form for the hull manufacture. A quick check of the transom area shows the hulls winged style which carries forward towards the centre section of the boat. Marine grade 4mm aluminium chines also assist the hull with lift and tracking as well as beefing up the structure.

The hull features a 4mm bottom with 3mm sides and top and the floor is 3mm as well. The addition of bracing from the chines and spray rails means this is really one very strong hull, it’s a fortress indeed!

The 4.8 Fortress comes in either tiller steer or with a side console, and even the basic tiller steer boat comes well fitted out. Common to both are features such as the front casting deck with hinged lid access, bowsprit with rope guide and safety rails, side pockets, rear rails and an 1100 GPH bilge pump.

The Fortress hulls are not painted, but are finished in Nyalic, which is a clear coating that is very tough and takes the glare off the aluminium. I reckon it is an attractive finish to the hulls.

The 4.8 Fortress is naturally 4.8m LOA, has a beam of 2.0m with freeboard of 0.64m. The bare hull weighs approximately 370kg and is rated for motors from 40-70hp, with a maximum engine weight of 120kg. As expected with a hull of this size, minimum transom shaft length is 20 inches.

A Package Deal

Reef Marine put a really great package together, that has proven very popular and there are several engine options available.

The standard package for the tiller steer dinghy includes a Yamaha 50HMH 3 cylinder two-stroke with gas assist and the rig comes on a Redco RE1513 trailer, which has fully galvanised axle and springs, jockey wheel Teflon skids and over ride mechanical brakes. Two moulded seats and bases are also included, so the outfit is ready to roll. This standard fit out offers great value and everything is designed to have a very long life and is robust enough to stand up to hard use.

Yamaha engine options available include upgrades to either a 50HWHTOL or F60CEHT and both upgrades include a battery.

The side console 4.8 Fortress is a further step up and has a very neat and robust side console. While the console isn’t overly large, it has enough room for instruments, switchgear, a sounder or anything else and does not interfere with fishing space. Cable steering and a decent steering wheel come in the package.

The standard engine fit out is a 60hp 2 stroke 3 cylinder Yamaha 60FETOL unit featuring electric start, power trim and tilt. Engine option can be an upgrade to a Yamaha F60CET with obviously a battery included.

Again the rig is carried on a fully galvanised Redco RE1513 trailer with mechanical over ride brakes and quality skids and roller.

Greg Camilleri uses one of these 4.8 Fortresses as his own boat and has upgraded electronics to his own requirements. Greg regularly uses this boat for runs along the coast in the Gulf of up to 70km and reports the fuel useage at around 15L per hour with a 60hp four-stroke Yamaha. Considering the power available that’s not bad economy when you take into account extra weight like eskies, fishing gear and people on board.

With a set up similar to Gregs, the Fortress 4.8 is a real weapon and can take on really quite atrocious conditions with a fair margin of safety.

On the Blue

Unfortunately at the time of the test a standard tiller steer rig was not available, so we went for a run in Greg’s personal boat.

On the water the first thing I noticed was how quiet the hull/engine combo was. As someone who has used tiller steer tinnies for about 40 years, it was pleasant to not have an outboard roaring away just behind me. The hull did not slap at all and moved really quickly onto the plane for as smooth a ride as I have ever had in a tinnie.

The wing style hull gets the boat up nicely and the hull is well balanced and moving about while underway did not produce any alarming lurching or leaning. Probably the best way to sum up the performance in calm water is that it was very laid back and easy.

But like all Mclay boats, this hull is made for rough stuff, so we scooted down river to the mouth to have a play with a run out-tide against a 15 knot SE wind. These are conditions that we regularly come up against, and they are uncomfortable in a tinnie. Not this one though, the hull breezed through the conditions without any difficulty and we even stayed dry, which was remarkable in an open boat in the conditions. This boat really does instil confidence and is obviously a very sound, safe design. Top marks, McLay!

I pulled the boat off the plane in among all this mess of water and spun it side on to see how it would respond. It was pretty much a non-event. Sure there was a bit of rolling but no sudden lurches, and the hull just rode up with the swells. I reckon that big airtight chamber under the floor contributes a lot to the handling.

Greg and I tried mimicking gaffing a fish in this mess and even with both of us on one side, the hull gave me no cause to worry. The generous freeboard of 640mm also means that there is good support, which is another positive safety feature.

The 4.8m is a bit of an in between size, but this boat will safely go where few others of its size would be taken. For an angler looking for a good size boat with moderate power needs that will serve to chase pelagics, do reasonably long runs to reefs across open water, or just wants to potter around in the estuaries and creeks, this hull takes some beating. These needs would really apply to most anglers and this 4.8m Fortress fits the bill.

I would opt for the tiller steer unit as I also do a lot of freshwater fishing in among some pretty horrible snaggy country and the tiller steer would suit me better than a console. But the side console boat is a fine craft and is understandably a very popular seller for Reef Marine.

Am I impressed with McLay Boats and the 4.8m Fortress, and would I recommend one? You betcha!

McLay Boats are available from Reef Marine at 26 Prospect Street, Mackay and they can be contacted on 07 4957 3521 or via their website, www.reefmarine.net.


Standard Features

3mm Sides and top

Bilge pump 1100GPH (Not plumbed)

Bow spit with rope guides and 1.5m rails

Casting deck drains including hatch drain

Casting deck with storage under hatch and provision to run fuel line to transom

Fully welded 3mm tread plate floor giving under floor buoyancy

Marine grade 4mm chines

Plate hull

Rear rails

Self draining anchor locker recessed into casting platform with hinged lid

Side console with steering and cable

Live bait tank (non plumbed) LHS, Storage bin RHS

Rear transom with splash well

Side pockets

Standard plastic swivel x 2

Seat sockets x 6



Hull weight370kg

Reads: 10792

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