... ... ... Seven years in an unassuming narrowboat on the waters of the "longest, friendliest village in England"  

Pentargon has a solid fuel central heating system

Pentargon came with a useless cabin heater running off the on-board gas supply but giving no discernible heat whatever ... the 2011 survey had come up with a gas leak somewhere in the system but NEGLECTED to advise where ... since the gas pipe to this useless facility was over 20ft in length, (the heater being half-way down the boat), the decision was made to take the device out completely, pipes and all ... the total remaining gas pipery would then be no more than 6', between the 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 of in-house conflagration ...  the challenge presented an opportunity to go upmarket, eco-friendly and economical with Pentargon's boat-heating arrangements.

The surveyor had recommended solid fuel heating and certainly this looked the way to go for simplicity ... The commonest solids fuels on the cut at the time were coal nuggets and wood. The hot-link there about solid fuel heating is particular good ...  Coal (real or imagined)  is expensive, dirty, heavy, cumbersome and a damn nuisance ... Coal and its derivatives generate huge quantities of unusable and non-recyclable ash, a permanently filthy boat and an awful lot of work, storage and stealing problems ... Sorry! Not going there! .. 


Raw timber has a similar charge-sheet except you can harvest your own by the cut,

 as long as you know what you are doing.

(This is an exceptionally good link from Australia!)

Harvesting, seasoning and storing wood is an art form

but totally impractical on a small narrowboat.

Pentargon is 36' long overall and cruiser sterned, with two cabins, pretty much equal in size and capacity, separated by a bulkhead and partly fire-proof door. The forward cabin contains double and single bunks, water-tank, toilet, shower, wash-basin, wardrobes and storage in various nooks and crannies.

The rear cabin is given over to the galley, diner, drawer storage and bunking and is separated by a bulkhead and door from the sleeping quarters.


So! . . .  At the time! back in 2012!  What to do to answer the question "How do you keep warm in winter?"  ...

 What's out there to keep one warm in bed when the "Beast of the East" comes calling in 2018?  ...



We had come across the Hampshire in as a result of the "JustCanals" forum on the web... The moderator had found the HampshireHeaters site and wondered what any of us thought of the idea ... there was no reaction from some 400 members but Pogue was immediately interested in the concept. HampshireHeaters burn lumpwood charcoal in a firing chamber [which is] surrounded by a shiny steel jacket, which itself has holes top and bottom to heat and circulate hot air trapped between the two skins by convection. The unit radiates considerable heat in use, but precious little escapes up and out because of a 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? AND! ... It is carbon neutral ... The method of burning (or, more correctly, the "start-up procedure") of HampshireHeaters means that only a wisp of smoke is generated for some minutes on start-up and after that none at all ... HampshireHeaters are designed to totally consume this special charcoal, the residue being a tiny amount of wood ash, actually potash which itself is a useful garden fertiliser. ... Hampshires then are entirely eco-friendly, efficient, economical, compact, pleasing to look at and totally safe on board in restricted space. It's primary market is ocean-going yachts out of the Solent for the southern ocean and/or the Bering Straits. After experiencing at first hand just how cold it was on board a 36' Springer with no heat during the vicious cold snap 28thJan-18thFeb 2012, a HampshireHeater was acquired at once and trialled,  (click here) on the required 'lumpwood charcoal', a small amount of which had been sourced at the local garden centre.


 (Just a reminder, dear reader, about the hyperlink system in use! If anything is underlined it should provide extra info

 Once acquainted with the published methodology for firing up the HampshireHeater, keeping it lighting and alive overnight, it went to the boat for real trials, keeping hypothermia at bay in outside temps as low as -6ºC on the run-up to St. Valentine's Day 2012. 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 (according to the instructions) must not be added to until it is red-hot and smoke free, about 10mins.  It was then to be topped up with the balance of 1kg straight from the bag, which amount conveniently filled the hopper to the very top. ... This was and still the published advice from the website, but has been superceded on Pentargon


With considerable use Feb. thru Apr. we discovered that adding a full charge over the red hot coals caused 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" and fine ash ... During the cold season, this problem had been realised but not the extent to which the fine dust permeated  every corner of both cabins. Because the charcoal was being poured downward onto hot coals which were producing an updraught while the top was off the dust was being propelled into the air up to the roof and then being carried by convection currents. Next 'season' we experimented by containing the charge within a  paper bag  but without much success. We had already got past the point of grading the charcoal by nugget size, removing as much dust as possible in the process OUTSIDE the boat.This helped but not totally. 

EDIT ENDS 20190803 


Ongoing trials on board during 2012 eventually enabled a charge to be eked out to about 10hrs. Going to bed at 8pm meant waking at 6am to top up the burner with more lumpwood and hoping for the best. However, the sleeping cabin could be maintained at 18ºC through the night. It was even taken up to 24ºC on one occasion, while testing the limits, but was deemed a waste of precious resources and of limited practical use.


 Pentargon has on board " polar and maritime" sailing kit from our sea-going days, having been bought originally around the turn of the century. It is still on board in 2019 During the very cold period in 2012 this became standard wear, day and night, on board or ashore. The lurid yellow rig became rather well known around Rugby, Daventry and on the cut. Once the Hampshire had been proven, one was able to undress at night and sleep inside a very snug [Irish] Lee Valley 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 canal boat on the 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 £1.70 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 charcoal 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 in Rugby library's Internet facility got me on the phone to Liverpool where I got 180kg in 5kg bags for below 90p per kilo, including the cost of driving from Rugby,  M6 tolls both ways and even a grub break at Norton CanesPentargon now had an assured on-board supply of lumpwood charcoal to cover about 90 days of exceptional cold or maybe 9mts of background heat. It was no credit to UK industry (aka "rip-off Britain") 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 appeared to be alive and well. BUT! There had to be a catch. There was! The Sainsbury product contained a paraffin accelerator, smoked like fcuk and stank the boat. You win some!

During 2013, the boat came down from the Midlands and lived in the London area for about two years, during which no further improvements were made on the dirt and dust front. However, much experimentation with different sized nuggets improved heat control and it got to a stage where we could gauge exactly how much fuel and in what order could give us high fast heat, long overnight low heat and the ability to prime the stove to last for long periods without any attention.

For 2014, cowling and ducting was added to channel convection heat under the main bunk to act like an electric blanket! with any excess tending to warm the large black plastic water tank which resides under the bunk. This also prevents heat going straight to the roof and out the mushrooms. The cowling included 400mm x 400mm marble slabs as a heat sink, with an aluminium apron for ducting and a stainless steel tray underneath. hard to describe but those who have taken the "Pogue.AtHome.Day" have been intrigued at the simplicity and the silence.

2015 brought a eureka moment, when we realised the published instructions were actually giving bad advice which was the REAL cause of the layers of ash and dust. Experimentation showed that once the "grape" layer is laid down first in the hopper, nuggets the size of lemons and oranges can then almost fill the hopper and a layer of the smallest bits of fuel (known on board as cornflakes!) MAY be all stacked in . . . BEFORE the fire is started as per published instructions. The grading process has been refined to such an extent it has been done INSIDE the cabin with almost no carbon dust discernible.



Air vents are closed progressively once the grape layer is well under way and the flue is warm to the touch at the top where it exits the roof.

2016 and 2017 gave us a much cleaner boat and experiments were on-going late in 2018. 

This article is also on-going, readers ...   ( ... )