BOAT REVIEW Machina 551

October 2021 Trailer Boat Reviews
Words and pictures by Matt Vance.
OUR RATING
4 STARS
Performance
Economy
Handling
Value
Build Quality
Specification
MODEL DETAILS
MODEL Machina 551
DESIGNER Lee Cummings
BUILDER Machina Supply Co.
CONSTRUCTION Integrated pontoons
PRICE AS TESTED $85,000
SPECIFICATIONS
LOA 5.5M
BEAM 2.0M
FUEL CAPACITY 107L
Weight on Trailer 1350 kg
Max Horsepower 150hp
Passenger Capacity 4 people
DEADRISE 16 degrees
HIGHLIGHTS
  • Striking looks
  • Solid construction
  • Integrated pontoons
OBSERVATIONS
  • Innovative pontoon design gives spacious interior
  • Smooth ride, good sea-keeping qualities and brisk performance with 140hp

To the reader, the life of a boat reviewer may seem like all rum cocktails, white linen pants and boat shoes without socks.


At its most serious it is treated as merely a glamorous lark and is considered by most as anything but a real job. The reality is quite different; slave-driving editors, tight deadlines and bashing around in sometimes ill-suited camera boats in marginal weather is closer to the truth.
While the editors and deadline bits don’t change much, the array of photo boats is always an intriguingly diverse pool of naval architecture, dictated by what is available at the time. “I’ve got a mate who can help us out,” is usually the call. Either that or I resort to rowing my dinghy Spud around while being strafed by fast, spray-tossing boats.
Blessedly there was none of this when it came time to review the Machina 701. When I asked about the availability of a photo boat, Lee Cummings, the designer/builder of the Machina range, said: “Don’t worry about that Matt, we’ve got you sorted.”
When I rocked up on review day, I could see straight away that he had me more than ‘sorted.’ The photo boat was the award-winning Machina 551.

Construction
The Machina 551 sets its foundations on the well-proven principles of strong alloy construction. The hull plates are 5mm marine aluminium, seam-welded to a horizontal keel plate which forms an ultra-sturdy section running the full length of the keel. The boat’s sides and floor are constructed using 4mm aluminium and the cuddy cabin and solid bimini are a combination of 4mm for the verticals and 3mm for the horizontals.

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A 107-litre fuel tank is fitted under the floor to provide plenty of range for a boat that is designed to go to out-of-the-way places. The review boat had its hull finished in vinyl but future editions of the 551 will be painted. Taken altogether, these aspects combine to bring a reassuring impression of strength and buoyancy.
Getting to and from the water was taken care of with an all-aluminium custom-built trailer manufactured by Machina. In a similar fashion to the boat, the well-engineered trailer has sturdy good looks. It has been designed to make launching and retrieving a breeze. With a towing weight of 1,350kg, launching and retrieving is an easy proposition.

Layout
While aluminium pontoon boats have – not always fairly – earned a reputation for stout looks, Lee Cummings has managed to create some striking lines and incorporate subtle details which have significantly stepped up the appearance and ride quality of the standard alloy pontoon boat. The 551 was the first design of the Machina range and as Lee points out, “Cuddy cabin designs are the hardest to get looking right – if you can do that then the larger sizes are much easier to design.”


I hadn’t appreciated how right Lee had got it until seeing the boat parked next to a traditional pontoon boat in the yard. Externally the pontoons are disguised as a hard chine and internally they have been recessed to the edge to give a truly enormous cockpit area for a boat this size. This has no doubt lowered the centre of gravity. This, combined with the 16o deadrise at the transom and moving the deep vee of the cutwater downwards, has allowed the chines to be immersed along their full length when the boat is stationary. As a result, stability is excellent.
And because the pontoons are integral to the hull, ironically, she does not look at all like a pontoon boat. But once up and planing, the pontoons repurpose as hard chines that give a sure-footed feel to the hull.


When a Bimini top is added to a boat this size it is in danger of looking flimsy. The Machina 551 isn’t like that, with its solid fold-down bimini – and indeed the rest of the boat – looking robust. She’s rather like the marine version of an off-road 4WD.
With its low-profile cuddy and the forward-raked windscreen, there is excellent heads-up visibility on all sides. For the rough stuff, the bimini has hinging polycarbonate windows to provide all the advantages of a solid cab when it is needed most.
At the business end of the boat, fisherfolk will be impressed with the step-through from the transom. A large filleting-friendly bait board works well with the rod holders and stern platform close at hand. The wide, U Deck-covered gunwales make good perches, and underneath, there’s good toe space and thigh bracing that is back-friendly. The cockpit is generous in proportion, uncluttered and has plenty of handholds for those open ocean conditions.


The helm station has great all-round visibility, which makes standing or sitting at the fold-down seats comfortable. The helm area and dash are lined alloy with a solid grab rail to port and a generously-sized navigation station to starboard. The dash contains the engine gauges, Maxwell anchor winch controls, switches, GME stereo and Garmin sounder/chart-plotter.


The wheel is a replica of a 1969 Mustang, which gives a great feel to the helming experience. Up forward there is an infill V-berth that would allow plenty of room for afternoon naps or storing dry gear. Access to the foredeck is around the side decks or else through a standard aluminium hatch. However, any anchoring work can be handled from the helm using the controls for the Maxwell capstan.
The powerhouse of the Machina 551 is the Suzuki DF140A four-stroke which supplies plenty of power for the Machina’s light aluminium hull.

On the water
There is a reason the Machina 551 won the All-Purpose Family Boat up to 6 Metres at the Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show. This must be one of the more striking-looking pontoon boats on the market. There are some clever angles to this boat and you have to look twice to appreciate them.
From outside the boat, the impression is of quiet strength. Onboard the impression is of clean space; the cockpit looks capable of swallowing up a mountain of people and gear without any complaints. With the boat’s widest point carried forward to the helm station area, the space just keeps on giving.


While the Machina 551 had that pontoon boat stationary stability, we did not have much time to contemplate it. The 140hp Suzuki got us off the mark quickly when we needed it and the chine-shaped pontoons gave a sure-footed feel in the turns. Cruising speed was comfortable at about 25 knots and 3,800rpm. With the taps opened, she is easily capable of more than 38 knots.
Fulfilling the role of a magazine photo boat is an unusual but effective test. You spend a lot of time chasing the review boat and smashing through its wake. If it is a big and fast boat like a Machina 701, that means you will be pushing the camera boat just to keep up.


It was only when I attempt to level a camera lens at the review boat that I fully appreciated the smooth sea-keeping abilities of the Machina 551 – far superior to the usual pontoon boat bash and crash.
In the Machina 551 we did laps around her bigger cousin, staying comfortable enough for me to contemplate rum cocktails and real jobs while keeping my imaginary white linen pants and boat shoes dry.

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