Pentargon came with a useless cabin heater running off the on-board gas supply but giving no discernible heat whatever. The survey had come up with a gas leak somewhere in the system but NEGLECTED to advise where. Since the piping to this useless facility was, in total, half the width of the boat followed by nearly half the length of the cabin, the heater being half-way down the boat, a decision was made to take it out completely, pipes and all. The remaining gasworks would then total maybe 6' in all between gas-locker, water heater and cooker, all being close together on the galley aft bulkhead. It should be exceptionally easy to control gas leaks, while removing a potent source for in-house conflagration.
The challenge presented an opportunity to go very upmarket and downsize in Pentargon's boat-heating arrangements. The surveyor had recommended we use solid fuel heating and certainly solid looked the way to go for simplicity. Coal is dirty, heavy, cumbersome and a damn nuisance. Raw timber has a similar charge-sheet except that you can harvest your own by the cut. So what else was there apart from bio-mass and .....
We stumbled across the Hampshire as a result of our activity on Facebook's "JustCanals" forum. The forum moderator himself had stumbled across the Hampshire site and wondered what any of us thought of the idea. There was no reaction from some 400 members but Pentargon was immediately interested in the concept. The Hampshire burns a special charcoal in a firing chamber which is surrounded by a shiny steel jacket which itself has holes top and bottom to heat and circulate the hot air trapped between the two skins. The unit radiates considerable extra heat in use, but precious little escapes to the outside through the tiny flue, the bore of which is not much more than an inch.
Eureka! Charcoal is a solid fuel. What was it the surveyor said about solid fuel?
The method of burning (more correctly the start-up procedure) of the Hampshire means that only a wisp of smoke is generated for some minutes on start-up and after that none at all. The Hampshire was designed to totally consume this special charcoal, the residue being a tiny amount of wood ash, which itself is a useful garden fertiliser. The Hampshire is entirely eco-friendly, efficient, economical, compact, pleasing to look at and totally safe on board in restricted space. It's primary market, apparently is posh ocean-going GRP yachts out of Soton.
After experiencing at first hand just how cold it was on board a 36' Springer with no heat during the vicious cold snap between 29thJan and 14thFeb a Hampshire was acquired on 7th Feb. and trialled, (initially at home while recuperating from frostbite and hypothermia) on the required 'lumpwood charcoal', a small amount of which had been sourced at the local garden centre.
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Having become acquainted with the methodology for firing up the Hampshire, keeping it lighting and keeping it alive for a long overnight, it went to the boat for some real trials, like keeping hypothermia off the menu in outside temps as low as -6ºC on the run-up to Valentine's Day. To do this overnight trick, all it asked for was a slug of methylated spirits at start up, plus a 'handful' of lumpwood. The start-up charge must not be added to until it is red-hot and smoke free, about 10mins. It is then topped up with the balance of 1kg straight from the bag, which conveniently fills the hopper to the very top.
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With considerable use Feb. thru Apr. we discovered that adding a full charge as per above causes very fine charcoal dust to be deposited all over the proximity of the heater and out into the cabins. Cleaning up the mess in June was a nightmare. Every surface the dust could fall on was covered with a thin black coating of "soot". During the cold season we had realised this was happening but not the extent to which it was permeating every corner of the cabins from bow to stern. Because the charcoal is poured downward on hot coals which are producing an updraft while the top is off the dust was being propelled into the air up to the roof and then being carried by convection currents. Next 'season' we are going to experiment with containing the charge within a light paper bag. We have already got past the point of grading the charcoal, removing as much dust as possible in the process OUTSIDE the boat.
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Ongoing trials on board eventually enabled a charge to be eked out to about 8hrs. Going to bed at 9pm meant waking at 5am to top up the burner with a second kg of lumpwood and hoping for the best. However, the upside was that the sleeping cabin and heads could be maintained at as much as 18ºC through the night. The sleeping cabin was taken up to 24ºC on one occasion, while testing the heat output to the limit, but was deemed a waste of precious resources and of limited practical use.
Pentargon has on board "polar'n'maritime" sailing kit from our sea-going days. During the very cold period this became standard wear, day and night, on board or ashore. The lurid yellow rig became rather well known around Rugby, Daventry and on t'cut. Once the Hampshire had been proven, one was able to undress at night and sleep inside a very snug "LeeValley Nightshirt" inside a single sleeping bag, inside a double sleeping bag, inside a heated cabin.
House Dwellers and Summer Sailors have no concept as to how cold it CAN be inside a canalboat on t'cut when it is proper cold in the middle of the night. It [almost] never came to ice inside the windows though, but that was down more to the extraordinary dryness of Pentargon inside rather than any other factor. I'm just old enough to remember the winter of 1947 when we had to scrape the ice of the insides of our unheated house windows in the morning to see out. Pentargon did manage to get her olive oil opaque out in the galley, with the Hampshire keeping the front cabin as cosy and warm as an eider duck's arse.
The Hampshire performed admirably using the lumpwood but the cost of the charcoal was considerable at first. I'd bought a few bags in Feb. at about £1.60 a kilo. When I went back in March they had new stock and a new price: £2 a kilo. I located their suppliers in Tottenham Hale and while the suppliers would sell to me direct in bulk at a competitive price, they had no actual stock of 3kg bags and would not have for many weeks. The 3kilo bags were crucial for storage and use. Lumpwood charcoal has almost zero water content and has to be kept very dry in storage. It needs to be stored inside the cabin really, which in my case was under the bed! Safety wise it's ok to have 4cwt. of charc. under your bed. There's no fire risk. Charcoal is slow to anger and if you get a fire on board which lights it, that fire has already destroyed the boat and you have already scarpered.
Research with my trusty Toshiba and Rugby library's WiFi got me on the phone to Liverpool where to cut the story short I got 180kg in 5kg bags for under 90p per kilo, including the cost of driving there from Rugby, the M6 toll both ways and even the food enroute at Norton Canes. At the end of a long day,Pentargon had an assured on-board supply of lumpwood charcoal to cover about 90 days of exceptional cold or maybe 9mts of background heat. I'm happy; well almost. It is no credit to UK industry that the original charcoal (produced in Norfolk) was put on the market at £2 per kg. while the 90p alternative came from Paraguay AND was a better product. Cleaner-burning, faster-lighting, longer-lasting and less ash. I mean there is no comparison and I'm kinda sad about the ability of the home suppliers to price themselves out of my market. Still Paraguay is a very poor country and GB is a filthy rich country. My conscience is clear. I am not a UK citizen and my [euro] pension goes further.
There is a sequel. Sainsburys had a pallet of lumpwood charcoal in 5kg bags last week selling at £1kg. Rip-off Britain appears to be alive and well.There had to be a catch. The Sainsbury product contained an accelerator, smoked like fcuk and stank the boat. You win some!
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This article is on-going, readers.