A few years ago, I was working on my boat, ashore in the yard. I felt, rather than heard, the explosion and as I walked the few yards to the mooring pontoon I was confronted by what was left of a Westerly Centaur.
The entire deck, including mast and spars, had been blown to the height of a three-story building before landing on the remains of the hull.
There was one person on board and of course he was rushed to hospital, fortunately with relatively minor injuries. It seems that having been in the center of the explosion, the shock wave moved away from him.
The experience left me with a lifelong concern about explosives in boats.
As most skippers know, gas and gasoline vapors are heavier than air and sink into the hold from where there is nowhere to go.
The resulting gas and air mixture is of course highly explosive and can only be removed by pumping, and only if you are lucky.
Get rid of gas
When we bought Freda one of the first jobs was to have the gas installation checked. The engineer made a few changes before signing it off, and of course we had it checked every couple of years after that.
Nevertheless, we were increasingly uncomfortable with having gas on board, let alone the cost of gear.
For fun, compare the price of a bottle of Calor gas with a tank of gasoline, knowing that gasoline is taxed. As with most boats, on Freda the gas was only used for cooking.
The only alternative fuels were paraffin or meth, and in the distant past I nearly set a boat on fire trying to light a paraffin stove.
We looked at meth (denatured alcohol if you want to be pedantic).
The people we met who used it were perfectly happy with meth, so we did more research on alcohol stoves. A Google search yielded the Origo 3000a totally self-contained two-burner unit, and it looked like it would fit in the kitchen space.
We have checked availability. Originally made by Dometic, it soon became clear that Origo cookers were no longer in production and the few offered on eBay fetched ridiculous prices.
A supplier in Germany listed it in their catalog and accepted our order, only to cancel it when they found they couldn’t find a supplier. We put the project on hold.
Several months later the chandler (compass 24) emailed back to say they had started making the alcohol stoves themselves and we were still interested?
We ordered one. It arrived, all shiny and lovely.
We bought a few liters of methamphetamine (£3.83 per liter online, and a liter lasts 4.5 hours of continuous use).
Because the alcohol stove is completely self-contained, we could try it out at home.
It worked like a treat, boiled a liter of water in the six to eight minutes it was supposed to, was absolutely quiet, and only gave off a very light, rather pleasant smell.
Installation of a new stove
On the way to Freda to check the dimensions in detail. We disconnected the old unit and removed it, sealing the gas piping but leaving it in place in case a future owner wanted to use it.
We have inserted the new alcohol stove in the kitchen. Perfect fit!
We removed the gimbals and pot clamps from the old stove and offered them to the new one. With a little tweaking, even these could be adapted.
This was important because even though the gimbals were available on eBay, they were extremely expensive and there was no guarantee that they would be suitable for our kitchen.
The ancients certainly would. We had to drill a few holes in our sparkling new alcohol stove to accommodate the gimbal assembly.
It would be a shame to get any scratches or marks on them – even if they were out of sight, we would still know they were there.
Covering the surface with tape was the solution, and also meant that the marks needed to measure were much easier to make. If I made a mistake, the offending piece of tape could just be ripped off and replaced. Also, when I came to drill, the tape meant the bit would be less likely to slip.
Obviously, we had to find the right balance. We measured the center line as a starting point, then put the unit on two pencils and marked the balance point which ultimately is not the same as the center line.
This balance point then became the centerline of the gimbal mounts. The gimbal/pot clamp assembly is bolted to the side of the cooker using M5 stainless steel set screws.
The sides of the device are made of fairly thin stainless steel and we feared that the screws would vibrate in their holes, making them oval and weakening the seal.
To overcome this we installed stainless steel washers on each side to tighten the steel and distribute the load. In addition, Nyloc nuts are also used for added security.
The time has come to actually install the assembled alcohol stove. I had carefully measured everything, of course, but there is always a nagging doubt.
After deciding exactly where we wanted it mounted so it was comfortable to use, I screwed the gimbal mounts in place, then dropped the alcohol stove. Phew!
I made myself a celebratory coffee.
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The storage of gasoline on a boat is a major issue. A gas locker is required, large enough to hold two large heavy cylinders plus the piping and control valve, and of course it must drain overboard.
In by Freda case the gas locker was under the aft deck where access was difficult to say the least. The exhaust loops through the helm station. The drain flooded occasionally and the gas cylinders rusted so everything was a mess.
With the drain sealed, it will now be very useful storage.
Now we just need space for a few small plastic bottles. We can seal off the old gas locker and use the space for chains etc. Much more useful.
As far as we can tell, cooking with our new alcohol stove shouldn’t be much different from the old one.
We don’t have a grill, but we never used the old one. As with many gas grills, the heat was very uneven, which might be fine for a single slice of toast, but wasn’t very useful for anything more demanding.
Refueling is child’s play. Simply open the unit and pour it into the reservoirs. These are filled with an absorbent material that absorbs methamphetamines, minimizing the risk of overfilling.
However, as a precaution we will probably get into the habit of filling the alcohol stove in the cockpit, where if there is a spill it can simply be wiped up and will evaporate.
It goes without saying that tanks should never be hot filled. Our existing pans fit well and we can use our griddle for chops, steaks etc.
It will be interesting to see how Mr. D* the thermal cooker works on it. We look forward to using it.
A major advantage is that the ship’s cook is no longer tied to the galley. Being self-contained, we can lift the alcohol stove off its gimbals and use it on deck in the cockpit.
Just think. Moored at the Beaulieu River on a beautiful summer evening, watching the birds and preparing a delicious supper. Glass in hand, of course. I can not wait !
*Mr D describes himself as a modern-day haybox. Essentially a large vacuum-insulated slow cooker in which you can prepare, for example, a stew. Once reheated, the meal can be left on its own for several hours without the risk of overcooking and will still be piping hot when you’re docked and ready for dinner.