Features February 1, 2003 Issue

Offshore Log: More Kiwi Companies

Last month, we started a survey of marine manufacturers in New Zealand that are riding, and sometimes creating, the wave of sailing technology that is rolling around the world. Here are a few more.

If you live in the US, you've probably never heard of Manson anchors. But for most sailors in New Zealand, Australia, and the rest of Asia, "Manson" is the synonym for anchor. 

Best-selling Manson galvanized plow anchors
in all sizes lined up for sale in an Auckland

In a small factory on the outskirts of Auckland, Manson builds the plow, ray, and kedge anchors that are standard equipment not just on normal-sized sailboats throughout the Pacific, but are widely seen on superyachts throughout the world. Manson was founded in the late 1970s when Kerry Mair took a close look at the CQR anchor and figured he could do a better job more cheaply. In typical Kiwi fashion, he took an existing design, adapted it to local conditions and materials, and went to work producing it,

By 1985, Manson plows dominated the New Zealand domestic market, and the company began exports. By 1990, the Manson plow was the most popular anchor throughout Australasia, a position which it maintains today.

A large percentage of the anchors sold for sailboats throughout the word today are variations on three basic themes: the Danforth, the Bruce, or the CQR. Whether the originals are better than the near-copies depends on who you talk to and what you believe.

Among world cruising sailors, the plow is by far the most popular anchor, and for good reason. The original CQR is a strong, versatile design, not excelling in holding in any bottom, but being better as an all-around anchor than virtually any other type. Aboard Calypso, our 60-pound CQR was the only anchor we used as a primary anchor, and once set, it never dragged in five years and over 30,000 miles of cruising.

The original CQR plow is noted for its robust construction, which includes a drop-forged shank. Drop forging, where a red-hot ingot of steel is pounded to finish form under high pressure in a shaped mold, produces the strongest, most consistent steel component of a given shape.

Most CQR copies, including the Manson, have cast shanks. Properly proportioned and with careful quality control, a cast shank is an acceptable alternative to a forged shank for normal applications.

Manson's plows are rated as HHP (High Holding Power) anchors by Lloyds and ABS (American Bureau of Shipping), just like regular CQR plows. The anchors can be supplied with test certification if a boat is built under classification society survey, but most are simply sold over the counter to regular consumers like you and me.

As with most variations on originals, the Manson plow is a lot cheaper than the genuine CQR. In New Zealand, a 60-pound Manson plow costs the equivalent of $240 US dollars. By comparison, a 60-pound CQR purchased out of the West Marine catalog in the US will set you back $700.

Kiwis are pretty thrifty by nature, and not one in a hundred would spend the money for the CQR over the Manson.

We have carefully examined any number of Manson plows, and they appear to be well made. The castings are clean and smooth, and the welding is good. The only weak point is that the galvanizing, although heavy, is often rough, which can affect the ability of the plow to penetrate harder bottoms.

Manson also makes two other styles of anchors: the ray, which is a Bruce clone, and the kedge, which is a traditional commercial-style anchor normally seen on larger vessels such as fishing boats, tugs, or ships. The Manson ray is far less popular than the plow, but appears well-made.

The kedge is another story altogether. Worldwide, numerous variations on this design are manufactured in sizes varying from just over 100 pounds to thousands of pounds. Manson's version of the kedge is certified as an HHP anchor, and is frequently seen on very large motoryachts and some huge sailboats.

Manson is carving a special niche in the anchor market by building all their anchors in mirror-polished type 316 stainless steel as well as conventional galvanized steel. The cost difference between galvanized steel and polished stainless is staggering, due largely to the labor cost for polishing, which far exceeds the actual fabricating cost of the anchor.

For comparison, Best Marine Imports, Manson's US distributor, retails the conventional Manson galvanized plow for $330 from its Florida operation—some $90 more than the cost of the anchor in New Zealand. The polished stainless steel version of the same anchor, however, retails for $1,800 in the US. Frankly, we see no logic in choosing a stainless steel anchor, unless you have run out of places to spend your money.

Most stainless steel kedge anchors we have seen are nestled neatly in the polished stainless steel topsides pockets of mega-yachts, and probably never see the seabed. Personally, we would be terrified to put a polished stainless steel anchor down on a foul bottom for fear we would hang it up and lose it. Likewise, we would feel obliged to padlock it in the bow roller for fear that some other yachtie might have an irresistible urge to borrow it.

You are highly unlikely to find a Manson anchor in your local chandlery, since they have limited North American distribution. If you are interested in the anchor that most sailors in the western Pacific and Asia consider to be the standard, you can contact the US distributor, Best Marine Imports of Hallandale, Florida. For the entire product line from Manson, visit their website at: www.manson-marine.co.nz.

Best Marine Imports


New Zealand may seem like an unlikely source for a line of marine electronics, but Navman, an Auckland-based company, is making increasingly large waves in the international electronics pond. A large part of the company's product line—all manufactured in New Zealand—consists of mapping and tracking solutions for land-based applications, such as truck fleets.

Navman's marine products, including instruments, fishfinders, and GPS/plotters, are an alternative to products from more familiar names such as Garmin, Raytheon, and Furuno that own a large chunk of the US market. We have field-tested only one of their products, the Navman 4200 fishfinder [December 2002]. In that evaluation, the Navnam was outgunned by all other units; however, it was by far the least expensive, and was slated by the company for a facelift and better backlighting. We have examined other Navman products carefully and used them in their simulator modes.

For sailors, the most interesting products in the Navman lineup are its 5000-series chart plotters. All 5000-series Navman plotters are driven by the SiRFstarII GPS engine. This is a WAAS-enabled 12-channel parallel receiver. WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) is satellite-based differential GPS, offering the accuracy of differential GPS without the necessity of a separate receiver. With selective availability—precision degradation—turned off, conventional GPS gives more than adequate accuracy for navigation. In fact, the true limitation in many cases is the accuracy of the chart itself, rather than the position given by the GPS. This is particularly true in areas of the world that have not been surveyed using modern techniques. However, should a major world or regional conflict erupt, it is possible that selective availability will be re-implemented.

The smaller Navman 5100 plotters, using a 5" diagonal-measure gray-scale screen, are aimed primarily at the entry-level powerboat market, and are of limited interest to sailors. Color plotters are far easier to read, and once you have used one you will never go back to a monochrome screen.

Navman offers two color plotters: the 5500, with a 5"diagonal screen, and the 5600, with a 6.4" screen. Both models have a separate external antenna, making them usable for belowdecks installation. The 5500i has a built-in antenna, which effectively makes it a cockpit-mounted unit.

The portrait (vertical) format of the Navman may at first seem disconcerting to those used to landscape (horizontal) screens. It actually makes a lot of sense, allowing space for data display across the top of the screen without sacrificing a lot of viewing area.

All of the Navman units are waterproof to IP67, making them suitable for installation in exposed areas. Screen resolution, at 320 x 234 pixels, is fairly typical for plotter units in this size and price range. For those of us used to the big, high-resolution screens of PC-based plotters, the images on a screen of this resolution seem primitive, but they are perfectly usable.

An excellent feature is the ability to reconfigure the display for various types of viewing. There are four screen modes: night, sunlight, normal, and paper. Each mode features different color combinations optimized for different types of viewing. In night mode, for example, land masses are shown in red, shallow water in two shades of blue, and deep water in black. Paper emulation gives a color combination similar to that of conventional charts. Sunlight mode maximizes contrast and brightness for use in the cockpit in daylight.

In common with every small-screen plotter we have examined, the Navman color screens have a relatively narrow viewing angle compared to the high-grade screen of a modern laptop computer or flat-screen large-format monitor. Mounting location has to be carefully considered to make sure that the helmsman or navigator can view the screen directly.

All plotters will store up to 500 waypoints in 25 routes, and have normal features such as a separate man-overboard button. When used as a conventional GPS rather than a plotter, the screen is easily readable and has a user-configurable data display.

All the Navman plotters come with a swivel and tilt bracket for shelf mounting. They also come with a bulkhead mounting kit for surface mounting in a cutout. The surface mounting gasket is an integral part of the case, requiring no adaptor other than unbolting the mounting stand if you want to install the unit in a bulkhead.

By far the most interesting of the Navman plotters for most sailboat owners is the 5600, which has the same features as the 5500 with a larger, 6.4" diagonal screen. It may not seem that a 1.4" increase in size means much, but the result is a screen that is 50 per cent larger in area than that of the 5500. Frankly, this 6.4" screen is as small as we think is really usable for a sailboat. Zooming in on a small screen to get adequate detail for close-in navigation means you are looking at a very small area of the chart, and you may not see potential hazards that lie just outside the edges of the zoomed screen. When it comes to navigation plotters, the bigger the screen, the better. For this reason, we prefer PC-based navigation whenever it is practical, as screen size is only limited by your budget.

Navman plotters utilize C-map NT or NT+ cartography. Unfortunately, the entire electronic cartography market is in a state of flux, with incompatible competing technologies. C-map charts are available for all the major cruising areas of the world, and offer good value. In the long run, however, it is unclear which technology will emerge as the standard for the industry.

Interestingly, Navman plotters are cheaper in the US than they are in New Zealand. We found the 5600 for about $1,000 at BoatUS. The same plotter in New Zealand, less local tax, sells for the equivalent of about $1,300. The smaller 5500 is $700 at BoatUS, and the equivalent of about $1,000 in New Zealand.

The Navman plotters feature a proprietary NavBus interface to link with the company's 3100 series of sailing instruments. Although we have not used these instruments, they feature big, easy-to-read displays, simple mounting requiring only a 2" hole through the bulkhead and no screws, and dead-easy networking.

The 3100 instruments appear to offer a lot of features for the money. From US sources such as BoatUS or Boater's World, you can put together a basic full-function instrument system including wind, boatspeed, log, and depth for under $1,000. Full-function repeaters, allowing multi-station installations using a single set of transducers and signal processors, are about $250 each.

At first glance, these instruments look like good value for the owner of a smaller sailboat wanting a full-function entry-level instrument system at the lowest possible price.

You can learn more about Navman marine electronics by contacting their US distributor, Navman USA in Nashua, New Hampshire, and on their website.

Navman USA


The increasing demands on a boat's electrical system require more sophisticated components than the old six-gang fuse panel or simple breaker panel. We found a line of New Zealand-manufactured marine electrical components that deserve a closer look if you're interested in upgrading your electrical system.

BEP Marine began life as an auto electrical company, and still designs and builds electrical components that are widely used in recreational vehicles and heavy equipment. The core of their business, however, is integrated electrical system management products, including heavy-duty battery switches, relays, metering, and electrical distribution systems.

We have found BEP electrical products in chandleries around the world, but they are less common in the US. This is a shame, because the company manufactures an expanding and increasingly sophisticated line of products that deserve wider exposure.

The two product lines that particularly drew our attention are their AC and DC monitoring systems, and their battery management systems.

An electrical system monitor can help maximize battery life and also be used as a troubleshooting tool. BEP's Matrix line of DC monitors includes multi-battery digital voltage monitors as well as monitors providing a wider range of information. All monitors are designed either for surface mounting or flush mounting, and are straightforward in installation. All displays are backlit. The meters are usable without modification on systems from 10 to 35 volts, which covers the 12 and 24-volt systems most commonly found in either sailboats or powerboats. Displays are digital, which is the only accurate way to closely monitor an electrical system.

The top-of-the-line DC monitor is the 600-DCM. It can monitor voltage for three battery banks, as well as providing an array of monitoring function for a single house bank at the same time. The additional functions include charge and discharge amps, amp hours remaining, low amp-hour alarm, and high and low voltage alarms for all three banks. The monitor is supplied with a 450-amp shunt. In New Zealand, we found the 600-DCM at the local Sailor's Corner chandlery for the equivalent of about $150 US, an amazing value.

The Matrix AC monitor is exactly the same size, and includes voltage, load amperage, and frequency. The system also includes a high/low voltage alarm, high amperage alarm, selectable frequency alarm, and system load in kilowatts.

The AC monitor can be used on systems from 0 to 450 volts. This type of AC monitoring is critical on boats cruising internationally, where variances in frequency can damage some equipment. In the US, for example, the standard frequency for AC systems is 60Hz, while much of the rest of the world operates on 50Hz electrical power. Motors wound for 60Hz may be damaged if run on 50Hz power, so it's nice to know the frequency of the shore power you may be plugged into overseas.

BEP's 700 series of battery distribution products permits an integrated and logical approach to the problems of switching, overcurrent protection, and high-current DC distribution. The components of the 700 series include normal and heavy-duty battery switches, heavy-duty bus bars with covers, fuse holders, voltage-sensitive relays for electronics protection, 24-hour service circuit breaker modules, and heavy-duty breaker modules.

All of these are modular components that can be linked together in hard-wired clusters for easy installation, and many of the most commonly used configurations are available fully assembled from the factory.

Of particular interest is the 24-hour service module, which allows you to wire essential circuits such as bilge pumps upstream from the main battery shutoff switch. You can shut down power to the rest of the ship while still maintaining a direct connection to the battery via the service module, which has integral push-to-reset breakers. This eliminates the wiring maze that is often seen at battery terminals when pumps are wired directly to the battery, often without overcurrent protection.

BEP's battery switches are some of the best we have ever seen, and include plated terminals and built-in back covers—you usually have to custom-make these if you're doing a flush switch installation. The heavy-duty 720 on/off battery switch, rated at 500 amps continuous and 2,500 amps intermittent for cranking large diesels, is an excellent piece of equipment, and even has a slot for a padlock to completely secure the boat's electrical system.

All in all, the BEP line of monitoring and management systems is well thought-out and nicely manufactured. The US distributor is Bischoff Marine Electric in Peachtree City, Georgia.

Bischoff Marine Electric. Inc.

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