The Heart of The Boat

When I leave the Azores, I will head to Falmouth where Rustler Yachts will have my boat and do the major refit work on her for the race. The refit list is quite comprehensive. And it keeps getting longer…

There is a fair amount of research to do for the refit period. I am slowly working my way through the list here in Horta deciding (or trying at least) on equipment. I do love lists… As part of documenting my journey to the start of the Golden Globe Race I am going to include all my research and ideas in my blog.

I have been debating for a while now about what to do regards a stove for the race. Such a fundamental part of any boat, the one thing that can raise a crew's spirits in minutes by producing delicious smells and hot food, always guaranteed to bring the toughest times at sea up a notch or two on the happiness scale. Out of the main fuels used for marine stoves I want the safest and most economical. They each have their benefits but also downfalls. The main fuels being CNG, LPG, kerosene, alcohol, electricity and diesel. I've already ruled out electricity, and CNG (compressed natural gas) because its hard to come by, so I am left with the last four choices.

I currently have LPG (liquid petroleum gas) onboard, more specifically butane. I have not had a problem with it on here or on any other boat I have sailed but it is highly explosive, and heavier than air which means if you have a leak it can be very difficult to get out of the bilges, and sometimes go undetected.

Alcohol is said to be the most environmentally friendly of these because it is mostly made up of renewable resources. Its main benefit is its low volatility so it's a relatively safe fuel, much safer than gas anyway. A fire can be put out with water and that's a huge benefit, but its heat content is low and gives off an unpleasant odour. It is not that easy to come by in Europe. Diesel on the other hand is available everywhere and inexpensive compared to alcohol. As with alcohol stoves there are pressurised and non pressurised diesel stoves. To burn the diesel they draw in moist air from their surroundings, which is great in the colder climes as it means a drier cabin but also a warmer one as they tend to heat up the boat as well as the food. Not so great in the tropics though… It also burns with a little soot. The beauty with a diesel stove is that only one type of fuel is needed on board, one that is available everywhere. It will power not only the stove but the engine and cabin heater also.

Paraffin stoves are similar to diesel: they burn very hot, and are relatively safe in liquid form. Again, they come pressurised or non-pressurised. Non- pressurised paraffin and diesel stoves which are drip fed cannot be gimballed, a huge disadvantage. Paraffin can be used in a diesel stove and out of the two is the cleaner to burn.

Any pressurised stove, whether it be alcohol, diesel or paraffin has to be primed before lighting which can cause big flare ups.

Lastly LPG, propane and butane. Both compressed and highly explosive, but easy to light, don't give off foul smells and available everywhere. A lot of precautions must be taken with these. Highly sensitive detectors right down in the bilges as that is where it will sink if there is a leak, and also thermocouples on the stoves that control the gas expelled which are great, but if one fails then gas is freely flowing into the cabin, so you need easily accessible shut off valves. Gas has to be stored out of the cabin in a vented locker that drains overboard.

BTU (British Thermal Unit) is the amount of heat energy needed to raise 1lb of water by one degree Fahrenheit. LPG has the highest heat output followed almost jointly by paraffin and diesel. Alcohol being very low. From a cost perspective diesel is the cheapest followed by paraffin then LPG at double the cost of diesel. Alcohol is 5 times the cost of LPG per Btu.

Each of these has its pros and cons. The butane that I currently use would not be ok in the colder climes as butanes evaporation rate will be so low that it will fail to light but propane will still operate in low temperatures. If I stick with LPG then I will need to build in more storage space in the cockpit lockers for the cylinders to carry enough around the world. As I have mentioned the biggest downfall with LPG is how explosive it is. And a problem with a gas system thousands of miles from land is not something I am keen to experience. Alcohol I have ruled out as its the priciest of them all, but diesel and paraffin are definite possibilities. Again they have their downfalls, I would also need a whole new stove where as switching to propane I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have to convert cockpit lockers for their storage, but with diesel I would need another tank or lots of jerry cans. A disadvantage to diesel is that if I ran out then it is not just the stove, it's the engine and cabin heater too.

Oh the decisions…