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September 21, 2007

The Right Moves

A new drive system may change the way you fish.


TURN AND BURN: The Zeus system directs the thrust of each independtly steerable pod to optimize efficiency. The pod drives also point the props horizontally (inset), avoiding the upward angle inherent in shaft drives.
Photo: Courtesy of Cummins Mercruiser Diesel

Skilled skippers take note: Showing off with tight docking maneuvers has ended. No more shoehorning that twin-screwed behemoth into an impossibly snug slip, keeping your back to the wheel as the pretty girls on the dock look on.

Why? Cummins Mercruiser Diesel (CMD) has launched its long-awaited Zeus propulsion system. It lets weekend operators maneuver like pros and get better boat performance. And it may help them catch more fish, too.

"I'm realizing more angling benefits the more I run our 45-foot test boat," says Scott Malindzak, CMD's chief engineer for advanced engineering. "The joystick control is ideal for spinning the boat around quickly. It will make it very easy to back down on billfish, change directions or work kites." Malindzak, if you couldn't tell, is an avid tourney fisherman and a licensed captain, and he's got a new toy.

I ran a Zeus-equipped boat at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show last fall. Here's how it works: The Zeus system is based on a pod drive—similar to the lower unit on an outboard, but swiveling freely and mounted directly to the bottom of the hull—powered by an inboard Quantum Series diesel engine. Used for years on ferries and other large vessels, pod drives offer increased efficiency and maneuverability with less horsepower than shafts.

Remember that joystick? The Zeus puts a video-game-like control knob next to the helm to maneuver at slow speeds. Push the stick to select direction or twist the knob to spin the boat. The pods adjust instantly. Docking and tight maneuvers are easy; a bow thruster is unnecessary.

The drives are mounted inside hull tunnel pockets, which reduce the boat's draft, shield the drives from flotsam and enhance thrust. The hydrodynamic pods reduce drag, while dual counter-rotating propellers minimize cavitation. Usually used in twin applications, each drive steers independently. The system is connected by SmartCraft electronic controls.

Pod Cast
Here's where it gets a bit like "Knight Rider." It doesn't speak, but the Zeus system is in constant communication with the other electronics, and keeps you informed on helm displays.

"Integration with the autopilot gives controlled ways to target structure," Malindzak explains. "You'll be able to look at the charts and troll along contours without the slightest deviation. Zeus collects input from multiple devices to let you operate the boat the way you want."

Even better for anglers, Zeus offers the Skyhook Electronic Anchor. Push a button and the boat will maintain a stationary heading, even in currents and wind. On my test, this feature let me hold the bow off a channel marker for several minutes, despite a ripping current and constant boat wakes. Think of the possibilities: Put the boat next to a buoy so you can catch bait, or simply set up over a wreck.

"Skyhook will let you fish short-handed or check out new bottom," Malindzak says. "Instead of anchoring and possibly damaging a reef, you can use it to hold a position indefinitely. You can drop quickly and, if you don't get any bites, move on."

Fast and Fishy
Zeus props point aft, unlike Volvo's IPS pod system. Per CMD, this orientation reduces the friction of the water flowing over the drives. In-house tests indicate the decrease in drag, increased horizontal thrust and counter-rotating props improve fuel economy by 30 percent, while cruising and top speeds are boosted by 15 percent over shafted inboards. Initial configurations will be limited to 550 horses per drive, with up to four drives. Larger drives are on the way.

Available to builders this year, Zeus is designed for new boats rather than for repowering. CMD won't discuss the price, only saying it will be comparable to shafted inboards of similar performance. So twin 425-horse Zeus drives will cost about the same as twin 500-horsepower shafted inboards.

Old-school skippers may be slow to embrace Zeus, but anglers with an eye for the next big thing might be ready. Especially when they pull into a dock full of pretty girls. Cummins Mercruiser Diesel; (800) 343-7357; www.cmdmarine.com

Good as Gold
Plot hot spots electronically.

Photo: Courtesy of Navionics

Local knowledge doesn't come easy. It takes years to learn all those honey holes and rocks. Electronic charts like Navionics Gold+ plug-and-play cartridges ($199) reduce the curve. The detail and accuracy of the Gulf of Mexico version has shown me new fish-holding habitat and kept me out of trouble. Experience is my guide, but now my plotter is on whenever I leave the dock. Navionics; (800) 848-5896; www.navionics.com
— D.L.