August 17, 2014

When the heater made ice

I DOUBT THAT THERE IS anything more shippy on a yacht than a small cabin heater. It doesn’t matter whether it’s black and pot-bellied, or stainless-steel and shiny. A heater always seems to add a large dose of old-fashioned character to a boat.

My favorite type is the one that uses kerosene. I grew up with Primus stoves on boats so I love them and understand them. There was one on a little Cape Dory 25D we once owned. June and I found her on an island in north Puget Sound, and sailed her home one bitter-cold day in February, when there was ice on deck. We stopped overnight at a marina in Anacortes, where we ran into an old sailing friend. He offered to lend us an electric heater because, he said, a cold night was forecast, but we scoffed and waved him away. “We have a nice Force 10 heater installed,” we said.

After a meal ashore, we came back to the boat and lit the heater. It had started life as a kerosene model, but the previous owner had converted it to gas. A small can of propane screwed onto the bottom.

We soon noticed something strange. It didn’t seem to be producing a lot of heat, and what heat it did produce rose to the top of the cabin and stayed there. What was even stranger was the fact that the can of propane was collecting a coat of ice. If we stood up in the cabin, the air was luke-warm from the belly-button up, and freezing cold from the belly-button down. As time went on, the layer of ice on the can grew thicker, so we shut the heater off, fearing that it was actually producing more cold than heat on average. Our bunks were below belly-button level, so we spent a very cold night aboard, having brought only light-weight sleeping bags with us.

One of the first jobs I did on that boat was to convert the Force 10 back to kerosene fuel.

It was a fairly easy job once I’d bought the right tools for flaring the copper tubing and so on. The new burner put out a lot more heat and never tried to make ice, but the hot air still hung around above belly-button level until we bought a 12-volt fan and mounted it where a reading lamp used to be. That stirred the air up nicely, distributing warmth all over the cabin.

But we rarely ran that heater because the fan used electricity, and I was scared we might flatten the battery overnight and not be able to start the diesel engine on a cold morning.

I have learned over the years that very little is simple on a boat, and the less you have to go wrong, the better off you are. So we didn’t have a heater on our next boat. Thicker sleeping bags and extra blankets did the job just as well.

Today’s Thought
She knows the heat of luxurious bed.
— Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

Some puns are better than others, but those jokes about German sausage are truly the wurst.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

John Vigor said...

Lizzie, you're not paying attention. I replied to your query in my column of July 22, "Follow Knight, and you'll be right." Check it out.


John V.