In Part 1 I looked at induction electric cooking and concluded that for most cruiser usage profiles, particularly for us live-to-eat types, propane was still a far better solution, and greener, too.
So what about liquid fuels:
My personal experience with liquid fuel is limited to kerosene and alcohol. The latter was years ago in the bad old days of pressurized alcohol stoves, which, ironically, since they were touted to be safer, were damned dangerous because the pressurized fuel could leak, particularly during the lighting process, and then ignite, say behind the stove. Several boats were lost this way before pressurized alcohol went out of favour.
Here's what I have concluded based on the above experience and a bunch of research and reading, as well as many good comments from members—hoping we will get more first-hand experience in the comments to this article—who use liquid fuels to cook:
I used the origo alcohol cooker for many years in my van and on my first boat. For me it was a perfect solution because it was simple, easy to use and to install. I even had one minor accident that was easy to fight with water. At least in Europe it is easy to find the alcohol. But I totally agree that it is for more basic cooking. The problem with the refilling during cooking occurred also quite a few times.
For me that was no big deal cause I am clearly a eat to live person. I eat very healthy often raw food that doesn’t need much preparation.
If you want to do more refined cooking and use the oven it s probably not the right choice
My actual boat came with gas and until now I am ok with it, but I also carry the origo as back up
We have no plans to switch to a diesel cooker (and the lack of a gimballed alternative would be a dealbreaker for us), but one of the advantages of diesel as a fuel inside the boat is that it burns “dry”, for lack of a better term. Propane burns “wetly” in that there must be sufficient ventilation to allow its use without condensing moisture out of the air. This is not a huge problem for cooking in the tropics, where several hatches might be open in all but the worst weather, but might be more noticeable in colder climates. Alcohol is similar and our old Homestrand stovetop did pretty obviously cause some condensation on the boat in the early spring or late fall. About the only literature I’ve ever encountered on this topic in the context of small, private vessels was this one, a little idiosyncratically written, but certainly helpful on the topic of the role of good ventilation aboard boats. http://www.marinestove.com/books.htm
Google informs me it was mentioned by me on AAC some time ago in the context of John’s post on good ventilation and the “wetness” of propane: https://www.morganscloud.com/2005/01/01/keeping-the-boat-interior-dry/
Of the fuels you have discussed, the only one that I haven’t done on a boat is electric. A few thoughts on them:
Alcohol is great for someone who will cook in a ventilated area, doesn’t cook a ton and is in the eat to live category. I have used alcohol stoves camping and on our first boat which had an Origo. Refilling can be very problematic if done wrong but you just need to be disciplined to fill more often than strictly necessary and always check before lighting. Even worse than refilling when hot in my opinion is the people who splash a bit of alcohol when refilling and then just put the burner back in the stove and end up with a lot of flames they hadn’t planned on. We always just bought 1 gallon metal containers of denatured alcohol at the hardware store and cooked probably 50+ meals for each gallon (I fall squarely in the eat to live category and my wife leans somewhat the other way so our per meal usage is low, we would probably use only 5 or 6 lbs of propane for the same).
I haven’t used kero in 20 years but I see no advantage there that would make me go back. Lighting is super fiddly and fuel sourcing is a pain.
Diesel to me is either for commercial boats or cold weather boats. The one fuel thing does not outweigh how much heat they throw around the rest of the boat unless you are somewhere where you are going to be running heat anyways then it makes sense.
Propane is annoyingly complex to set up, especially if your boat didn’t come with a gas locker. However, once set up it works well and can be made appropriately safe. Needless to say, this is what we have.
Thanks, great to have a view from someone who has actually used all the options.
John – many thanks for examining an essential yet far too frequently overlooked element of cruising.
When considering a boat I usually thought no further than ‘Cooker? Yes, it’s got one’ but when cruising in my new-to-me boat with my new-to-me wife who is a superb cook I’d my eyes (or maybe my taste buds) opened to a new world of possibilities. However, oven temperature regulation is very poor; we’d like to upgrade (staying on propane) but unlike most other sailing-related subjects there seems a dearth of unbiased or informed reviews on different brands and models. Without asking you to do a separate article as a ‘consumer champion’ do you know if there are any particular standards, or perhaps features that should specifically be looked for when choosing a cooker for a boat? Any comments from anyone else with particular experience would be very welcome. One more failed soufflé and I’m worried our cruisingwill be toast…..
Hi Iain, as Team NZ yesterday (what incredible drama), I recognise a marine distress event unfolding…
Sorry, no particular industry experience except that we have been offshore and our first mate enjoys baking and the skipper enjoys cooking. Prior to departure, we had to replace our old ENO brand Euro stove / oven and went to the local importer’s show room where they had ENO and Force 10 stoves arrayed side-by-side. The ENOs fitted exactly our gimbals, were not quite half the cost and weight. Asked the difference, the product manager told us it was nothing to do with build quality (the two ranges are manufactured in the same plant, on separate lines). Apparently it is all in the weight of the metal case and thickness of the thermal bricks surrounding the oven and therefore thermal capacity – the heavier the stove the greater the thermal capacity, the more even the oven cooking temperature is likely to be.
We went for the light option that fitted without needing any modifications, but we do notice the oven temperature is hard to control as it fluctuates between hot and warm with the slightest gas alteration. So we use a cheap but accurate thermometer to tell us what’s going on inside the oven and this really helps (see photo). We can read it through the oven window without opening the door.
With the weight and money saved, we bought a Webber Baby Q bbq that stows neatly in our cockpit locker, uses our standard gas bottles in the gas locker, has proven remarkably windproof, and as a bonus can be taken to the beach, even when there is a fire ban in place. IMO, it out performs any boat oven for roasts, or grilling or making pizzas (with a stone added). Hope this helps keep you afloat…Rob
p.s. as a Kiwi, we all so hope America Magic make it back for round 2 of the Prada Cup.
p.p.s. hanging thermometer example: https://www.spotlightstores.com/nz/kitchen-and-dining/food-preparation/utensils-and-gadgets/cuisena-oven-thermometer/80338566?gclsrc=aw.ds&gclid=Cj0KCQiA3Y-ABhCnARIsAKYDH7v3MwHGmHvOnwm2f8VVu-rRy8-JaqjyXO9fQyyW-3dMrUUCsYJ5TiEaApENEALw_wcB
Good tip on the thermometer. We used to do the same on our much hated Broadwater, but have not felt the need on the F10, so that would seem to confirm what you were told.
And I too am hoping to see America Magic back, although since my mother was a Kiwi I need to keep quiet about that, or I will feel my ear being pinched.
A cut to fit pizza stone/ceramic tile slotted into the bottom of an oven lacking in thermal mass makes a huge difference. Our old eno now cooks pizzas evenly rather than burnt on the bottom and underdone on top.
A good way of improving a poor boat oven.
Good tip. One of the things we like about the Force 10 is that it has a heat distribution plate over the burner in the oven, which seems to do much the same thing.
We have used an unmoored pizza stone with some success in our Force 10 propane stove for baking bread, which we tend to do on calm days at dock or anchor rather than underway. Let the stove gimbal and it does not tend to move and neither does the baking bread.
Cruising disaster a failed souffle…tragedy indeed. Seriously, I’m totally with you. We have articles on our force 10, which does a reasonable job on oven regulation, even if it did try and kill us. More on both topics here: https://www.morganscloud.com/category/food-and-cooking/
I have been hearing good things about cookers from GN Espace and Colin was super impressed having used one: https://www.morganscloud.com/2016/05/29/maiden-voyage-of-the-boreal-55-what-worked-and-what-didnt/
If I was equipping a boat that would be the first place I would look.
What a fantastically useful set of comments; many thanks to all for taking so much trouble to help this gastronomically-challenged sailor out. Rob – many thanks mate and I look forward to Ineos squaring off with Te Rehutai in a few weeks……
Thanks for letting me wander a bit ‘off track’ John, but the combination of your sound analyses written in your trademark style followed by comments from people who actually know what they’re talking is what makes your website perhaps unique and such a valuable resource. Certainly helps me cope with the frustrations of being kept 4500 miles away from my boat by this wretched COVID business – but at least I can offer my wife ‘jam tomorrow…’. All the best!
Glad it’s working for you, and thanks for the kind words.
We have a propane stove on board, but have friends with a 4WD who swear by their “meths” stove, which is what alcohol is known as in Australia. However, as a regular user of meths for cleaning one disadvantage is how hard it is to get in the Pacific, where governments restrict it’s availability because otherwise it is bought as cheap drinking alcohol, with disastrous consequences such as blindness.
That problem with “meths” and the associated restrictions is a very good point. I use it for cleaning too and had a hell of a time finding it here in Nova Scotia, although that got easier once I discovered that I needed to ask for Methyl Hydrate which is actually wood alcohol…whatever that it. Anyway, easy to find it is not.
My wife and I are definitely eat-to-live type and Origo alcohol cooker works fine for us. With the caveat that we do not live aboard full-time yet. My only wish for improvement is to find an alcohol oven. In any case, the propane stove/oven that came with the boat is on its way out.
One way to mitigate the risk of temptation to refill a hot canister if alcohol ran out while cooking is to buy a reserve canister. It can be filled cold, wiped of any spills, and put into the cooker, replacing the hot empty canister.
That’s a good idea on having the spare canister ready. Much safer than messing with refilling in the heat of the moment (ouch, bad pun).
Alcohol is certainly the simple option, and, if I were considering liquid fuel, probably the one I would lean toward.
You will need a way to gasket the spare canister so that it does not leak, stink up the place, or evaporate alcohol. I’m sure there is a way.
As an ex-Aussie, I could not survive on my boat without a good bbq. Gas is by far the best option on a boat for a bbq, and in the summer we use the bbq every day for both lunch and dinner. For this reason, regardless of the galley options available, I will always favour propane (first choice) and butane (second) because it serves both galley and cockpit bbq. Super safe if you manage it properly – just as with anything at sea.
I have had propane stove with oven..and alcohol stoves in the mountains and now use a Wallas. Eleven minutes sounds like an age, however that is time to first perk of coffee. Not much different than at home with electric. There is most assuredly gimballing available for your stove. Don’t know where that comes from…why not. I exhausted mine out the hull quite near the stove no problem. Not hot enough ever to do any damage. I carry the small 10 liter tank which I fill from the main tank with a simple bypass on the polishing line. Simple and that tank lasts a month or more of live to eat before refill, though I keep it topped up because it is so easy. I like the simple one button push start, no fuss. The temp control is not as finicky as you think, and I really don’t change the setting much at all. When the weather is hot and sticky we don’t cook roast in the oven anyway and all the windows are open and fans are going too. So all in all as a simple cook top with ease of function and no safety risks I have found the Wallas stove quite fine.
Could you link to the availability of gimbaling? I’m finding it hard to see how the stove could be gimballed and have an exhaust. Also how much time have you spent offshore with this set up and what kind of boat do you have?
Well that is not my boat, but there is a nice gimballed diesel stove there. When I bought my stove top 85d I was offered the gimbal option but declined. We don’t offshore so don’t have to cook on the slope, although my good wife has been known to cook me lunch while sailing. That said even while at anchor our Gulf 32 seems to lie beam to any possible wave action. I believe the fix for the exhaust is the same as the propane feed line.
Thanks. I’m still having trouble understanding how a reliable exhaust line could be engineered on a gimballed diesel stove. A propane feed line uses rubber hose, but that’s not going to work for an exhaust line. The exhaust line I’m used to using on diesel furnaces is metal and only slightly flexible and certainly would not stand up to repeated flexing. Here is the Wallas product: https://wallas.ca/product/1028/
I will write to Wallas and ask them.
Also, I think, based on my experience with diesel furnaces, that the reason you get away with not routing the exhaust all the way to the stern is because you don’t go offshore. So I stick by my thinking that said routing is required for an offshore boat.
Exhausting a gimballed stove using closed combustion diesel/kerosene doesn’t seem that hard. Just route the exhaust coaxially through the gimbal bearing, then use double-walled pipe with some cooling air blown through the annulus and a fibreglass sleeve on the outside to keep it touch-safe. But I’m guessing nobody does it that way, likely using flexible spiral-wound metal pipes instead?
Yes, I can see that, but as you say, I don’t think they do it that way and I can find no indication on their site of how they do do it. I have written to ask, but so far have not received an answer.
While I wait for an answer from Wallas, I have removed the part about gimbaling not being available, thanks for the correction.
Are Aussies ever ex? Clearly you don’t lose the bbq nack! Anyway I agree with you last line. So much of safety is about us, not the fuel.
The only non-pressurized alcohol stove/oven is the Origo 6000. Several years back Dometic bought Origo and then promptly discontinued all their products over 6 years ago (strange). So there is currently no option for non-pressurized alcohol. Used Origo 6000 sell for $1000 to $2500 depending on condition. I lucked out and found one for $400, but you have to keep your eyes peeled and be fast.
Alcohol is easy to find and cheap. Methyl Hydrate at Canadian Tire (for us Canuks) is $10 per gallon. We have 2 extra canisters that we can fill if we need to replace an empty one if we run out mid-recipe.
Our latest boat came with Natural Gas. Although it was a safer option to Propane, it never really took off and you can’t fill the bottles anywhere in Canada, or almost anywhere else for that matter. Converting to propane was an option, but we would have had to build a propane locker, buy bottles, install new lines, cutoff valves, alarm, yada yada yada. We always had Alcohol stoves in the past and they have always served us well. Small spills evaporate quickly and it couldn’t be simpler and problem free.
I can certainly see going the alcohol route when faced with a complete propane installation.
I have used the Origo non-pressurized stoves on multiple boats for something like 25 years now, and they are still my stove (stove/oven) of choice. I have also used propane on extensively on other boats, so my preference is not for lack of experience with that alternative.
I have to concede that propane stoves/ovens are definitely the easiest in use. That said, I find the Origo nearly as user friendly. I have had no problem modulating the flame from simmer to boil via adjustment of the knob (or slide, as some models have) that adjusts the cover plate opening. The Origo is utterly silent – something I cannot say about some of the propane stoves I have used. The Origo burners do need to be covered (with the supplied neoprene covers) after the stove cools to prevent fuel evaporation.
I think you are wise to identify the possible safety concern of refueling while the canister is still hot. I have always heeded the ample warnings on the stove and canister, and thus never attempted to do that. I do carry an extra canister in the event I need to swap while cooking, but I cannot remember the last time I had to use it (I keep the canisters topped-up while COLD). I use a smaller squeeze-bottle with a ‘snorkel’ cap to refill the canister that all but eliminates any spillage, and I usually do this in the cockpit just in case. In 25 years, I have not had any fires or flare-ups, and it is actually hard for me to imagine such an occurrence under normal use and proper re-fueling. The canisters (properly filled) are completely spill-proof (even if tipped on their side). I did have one (very old) plastic gallon container of stove fuel crack and leak, but the odor informed me of this promptly. I now keep the containers in a dish pan, but have not had any subsequent leaks or spills.
Lest I sound like too much of a ‘fan-boy,’ I do want to be candid about what I see as the relative advantages and disadvantages of the Origo:
1) Alcohol does have (on paper, anyway) lower BTU ratings than the other fuels considered. My own experience suggests that boil times are only slightly longer than that of propane, but not anything like a night/day difference. I think there are other considerations to account for such as burner size, flame-spread, etc., before any blanket assumptions can be made.
2) It is definitely the case that alcohol is a wetter burning fuel. I do try and ventilate when cooking as possible. That said, I have noted that propane is not exactly a dry-burning fuel, and I am not sure that there is as much difference as some argue.
3) The oven (Origo 6000) does well enough for baking, but it is not suitable (or intended) for broiling.
4) Fuel availability is likely the main concern, as quality alcohol stove fuel is reportedly more difficult to procure in some more remote international cruising locals. In California, it was recently banned altogether for a year or so (ostensibly because the unburnt fuel is essentially 100% VOC), but is now again legal for sale for stove-fuel purposes only at marine and camping retailers (now back in stock at West Marine, for example). For longer distance cruising, my intent is to stock up in the more populous locals with availability, and not expect to find it at remote atolls.
5) Some formulations of alcohol stove fuel (aka ‘Denatured Alcohol’) contain additional solvents. I find that the odor of the fuel (and combusted by-product) varies wildly depending on the recipe. Some friends in Europe complained of burning-eyes with some of the ‘alcohol’ fuel they purchased there. I have not personally experienced this, but I have always been able to buy high quality alcohol intended for stove-fuel use. On another note, I happened on the following article that puts in question just how safe propane stove emissions are (granted, the article primarily addresses natural gas stoves, but it does make me curious about propane emissions): https://qz.com/1941254/experts-are-sounding-the-alarm-about-the-dangers-of-gas-stoves/?utm_source=pocket-newtab
6) The Origo is the very definition of simplicity (and they are very robust). There is only one moving part (okay, maybe a couple if you count the linkage or the oven door hinge) and that is the mechanism that opens and closes the burner. No valves (and thus seals), hoses, thermocouples, sniffers, dedicated self-draining lockers, etc., as associated with a proper propane installation. The Origo that came with my current boat had some singeing of the absorbent material in one of the canisters. The canister actually still worked, but was unsightly, so I replaced. Not sure if this was a result of allowing the canister to burn dry, or if the previous owner tried to burn something other than the approved fuel (I suspect the latter).
All of this might be moot, as Dometic has cancelled the entire Origo line, and there are very limited numbers of the stoves (and especially the model 6000 stove/oven combo) still available in the supply chain. I recently purchased a new model 6000 at a steep discount because one of the two oven door windows had broken, and there is apparently no continued parts support from Dometic. I also purchased some extra canisters and burner covers while they were still available. Given the longevity of these stoves, I think I am set for life (or as long as I can source the fuel)!
I do hope that someone either buys the Origo design and re-starts production or introduces a new non-pressurized alcohol stove. From the number of posts on the various forums out there, it would seem that there would be sufficient demand to warrant it – as long as the fuel remains widely available. Even if it does not appeal to the average world cruiser, I would argue that there is still a broad audience for smaller, simpler boats.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I have to admit that I was psychologically scarred some 35 years ago when I witnessed the deck of a boat just adjacent to me blown into the air as the result of propane accumulation in the bilge. The violence of that explosion and the resultant imagery has been hard to shake. Some years later, I came upon a similar explosion moments after it had happened, and the captain on board at the time did not fare well. I have since had (and sailed) on boats with propane installations, and I get it that a properly installed, maintained, tested, and used installation should be safe. I also suspect that before long, there won’t be many (if any) alternatives to propane, and that I too might be forced to make the switch. It certainly seems to be the case that propane has become the ubiquitous fuel of choice, and I can see a day when I will have to relent.
Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that the Origo-style absorption alcohol stoves are nothing like the horror-show pressurized stoves before them. Whenever I see the topic of alcohol stoves pop up, someone invariably decries their extreme danger while clearly describing their horrible experiences with •pressurized stoves• of fifty years ago. There really is no comparison in either safety or ease of use.
Oh, and for what it is worth, I recently discovered that the Wallas Diesel stove/oven combo (such as the model 87d) is actually available with a gimbal mounting kit. I am intrigued with this option for higher-latitude use, but also suspect that it is a complex piece of kit.
Thank you for the excellent article, John.
thank you for sharing your experience.
Do you have any tips on where it might be possible to find an Origo 6000?
As to the production of new alcohol stoves, I have found this one here: https://www.compass24.de/komfort/pantry-grill-ofen/kocher/153031/spirituskocher-3000-2-flammig
As you can see, it looks exactly like Origo 3000, but appears to be a store-branded copy. I don’t know anything about their quality to compare to Origo.
I purchased my damaged Origo 6000 from the West Marine store in Santa Cruz, California about a year ago (one of the double-pane door windows was broken, but I was able to have a new tempered glass one made inexpensively). At that time, they showed two others available – one in Portland, Oregon, and one in Southern California. I doubt those two are still available, but if they were also damaged units, then it could be possible. I’ve not searched much since purchasing mine, so I don’t have any other leads for you – sorry!
Like you, I did see what appeared to be an Origo 3000 being marketed under a different name. Perhaps someone has bought the design (but not the name) and is now producing again? If so, that would be a good thing!
Excellent and balanced review. Thanks so much. I’m going to add a link to it in Further Reading. Your comment should not be missed by anyone considering liquid fuel.
> 2) It is definitely the case that alcohol is a wetter burning fuel
It has an extra O to make H2O.
Definitely right about different recipes, some vapors harsher on the eyes.
Strike that, it goes into CO2 – getting old.
Dometic sold (donated?) the licenses and tech stuff to CleanCook, who is now working with Project Gaia to distribute a line of simplified Origo stoves in the third word. The intention is to reduce dependence on wood and improve household health. They are considering retail availability, but have not done anything yet. The cartridges, BTW, are interchangeable; they didn’t change that, other than some manufacturing improvements.
Thanks for the fill on that. Sounds like it may be a while, if ever, before we see a marine alcohol cooker with oven. A pity since the simplicity and ease of installation are big benefits.
Haven’t read anything yet to convince me to go away from propane/butane but I haven’t seen anyone talk about the problems of connecting to different gas bottles. We were in Norway in 2019 and ended up buying a local cylinder and regulator. Anyone done a survey of different countries and how you can convert from one to another. I have also seen accounts of transferring gas from one to another by hanging one cylinder upside down in a tree. Any views on this?
We do have an excellent hack for the problem of turning the gas off. A timer in the galley connected to a solonoid by the cylinder. You then don’t have to worry about turning it off as it always times out eventually. The only downside is if you don’t give it enough time when using the oven…
Thanks also for the Norway cruising guides we have used extensively and only recently noticed it was your work.
Interesting idea on the timer.
I deal with those procurement issues in the above article and in the chapter before.
One option that hasn’t been mentioned is an old fashioned drip pot diesel cook stove. I have a Dickinson Bristol, the smallest of several Dickinson models.
They have a few disadvantages for sure. Biggest one is probably the half hour or so that it takes to get hot enough to boil a kettle. Plus they put out a lot of heat, which is a disadvantage in real hot weather. And it’s not gimballed. I address all these disadvantages by also having a Seacook gimballed propane one burner that uses the little one pound tanks. Of course one burner limits your gourmet options – though it’s surprising what you can do with a a couple of pots and frying pans and good timing, particularly if you also use a thermal cooking bag (check out the Heylo Bag from New Zealand).
Another issue is that the oven while serviceable is pretty small – no roasting a turkey (though you can squeeze in a chicken, or bake a loaf of bread). It also requires a bit of skill to operate, particularly in strong winds – but once you understand how the fan and damper and cabin ventilation work together it’s pretty straightforward (assuming a proper installation to start with). Virtually no smell or smoke if you’ve got it set up right.
You don’t have to worry about propane explosions, it produces a great dry heat that keeps my Spencer 35 toasty on the coldest winter days, and is pretty fuel efficient. I’ve also found it very reliable, and it’s very simple – easy to fix if anything does go wrong. Worth considering in colder climates.
That’s an interesting option for cold climates. I have used the Refleks heaters and my experience was much the same: https://www.morganscloud.com/2009/12/01/an-analysis-of-boat-heating-systems/
Peter Smith has used Kerosene for cooking and heating on Kiwi Roa for her 25 yr lifetime. He has a gimballed 3 burner stove top and a fixed oven, all NZ Mariner brand. Says he has never had any trouble obtaining kerosene.
In my case very happy cooking with my propane fuelled Mariner Princess 4 burner and oven. Had it overhauled by Fred Andrews’ team a few years ago. He has since passed away and the business taken over so no more support available, but the stove is still going strong after 30+ years.
We had a Mariner Princess on our old boat. What a great piece of kit. I discovered it while chartering in NZ and liked it so much I had one shipped to Bermuda at vast expense. Best marine stove I have ever used. After Fred stopped making them, Broadwater in Australia claimed to have “improved” on the Mariner. What a crock that was.
Kerosene is definitely how I’m going to go for cooking and for a space heater. The safety and tremendous efficiency are hard to beat, as well as general availability. Don’t forget that you can still get the gorgeous old school Taylor’s paraffin cookers from (among other places) Toplicht in Germany, and since they last basically forever and haven’t changed in 50 years, there are a lot of them floating around used. Plus they are absolutely gorgeous. Real eat-to-livers can do very well with a Primus on a gimbal mount – look at Sea Swings and Sea Cooks. Old ones can be refurbed or the industrious can build their own gimbal mount for a few bucks. And talk about bullet proof.
One of my early boats had a rather grand looking kerosene stove, which, having used Primus stoves extensively in the back country, I was determined to give a fair chance. Never again. Filling it was messy, without regular cleaning and pricking it was smelly and prone to flare up. Which was when I understood why the previous owner had installed a sheet of stainless steel above the stove. I have never come so close to torching a boat….
Propane has inherent risks, too, but for the most part it’s relatively easy and efficient to live with. With a good stove (I currently like the GN range) I’ll stick with it for our next boat.
Best wishes, Colin
Thanks for coming up on that. I agree that the idea that kerosene is safe is a myth. Years ago when I sailed on Moonraker as a boy, Anne and Peter Pye had the Primus in a cupboard. I seem to remember that Anne said she liked the set up because it made it easier to contain and put out the fires. Certainly the inside of the cupboard was well blackened.
Being a mountain walker interested in sailing who has been close to destroying the valuable resource of a shelter hut 25km from any road by knocking my alcohol stove…
I almost don’t want to try to imagine what could happen with a burning alcohol spill from a full size stove moving around on a boat pitching in waves!
This is a wholly unfounded fear. There is, in fact, no liquid alcohol that’s burning on the surface and has the risk of being spilled while burning.
Rather, it’s alcohol vapor that’s burning above the canister. Just how would you go about spilling burning alcohol from an Origo stove? If you use it according to instructions, the canisters will not overflow until turned over 90 degrees from horizontal. The highest risk, as mentioned by others above, is that of pouring alcohol on hot parts when refueling. Spilling when refueling and not wiping it off is probably the second highest. Both of these risks are easily mitigated by adhering to the user manual.
OK, that’s good, feeling calmer now! The simplicity of alcohol stoves is appealing, as it is in the mountains.
Recently I had to decide on the cooker for my new-to-me Alajuela 38, Iron Bark III. Here is my thinking.
An electric cooker appears to be only useful on a boat that is plugged into shore power at night, assuming no generator. I can see no way of making it work for my style of sailing.
Propane works well provided the interval between resupply is less than 6 months. A downside of propane is the frequent need to have the bottles and installation re-certified when shifting countries. Also propane bottles are bulky compared to kerosene or diesel tanks/jerry cans.
Diesel is excellent for high latitude ventures as all the diesel cookers that I have any experience with also heat up the cabin. Wallas-style cookers require electricity to operate and are controlled by a microprocessor, which mitigates against their use on more venturesome voyages. Drip-fed diesel cookers require no electric power but are large, difficult to gimbal and slow to heat up. I might fit a diesel fuel cooker if I were never going to leave the high latitudes, but because they heat up the cabin they are inappropriate while I expect to be ranging more widely.
Kerosene (paraffin) is compact and relatively safe (comparable to diesel) and, unlike diesel, does not heat up the cabin to an extent that is unacceptable in the tropics. It is easy to carry a year’s supply even on a small vessel and despite all the talk to the contrary, kerosene is easier to source than propane in the much of the world. Kerosene is does not require annual inspection and certification which propane does in many places (New Zealand, Trinidad, Queensland etc). The downside is that it is slower to light than propane, heat levels are harder to control and burner parts can be hard to find. Despite all that, I used a kerosene cooker for 40+ years because of the flexibility it gave me to make extended journeys and never had a problem that I could not solve.
Alcohol has little more than half the energy content of other liquid fuels (6.4 kcal/g for alcohol vs 10.3 kcal/g for kero) and is one of the least compact and most expensive fuels. Ethanol is hard to source in many places and there appears to be no marine quality alcohol stove currently in production. The option was unattractive for all these reasons.
Solid fuel is too bulky to use except in special circumstances such as a winter in Patagonia, where wood is abundant and hydrocarbon fuel scarce. On the positive side, wood, coal, coal briquettes, peat and charcoal can all be burned in the same stove. During a winter in Scotland I use 40kg of coal briquettes per week for heating and some cooking on a 35 ft vessel; this is clearly impractical if voyaging far from a coal merchant. The production of charcoal is usually an environmental disaster and it has limited availability; charcoal is best not used as a fuel. The same objections apply to peat, but it burns with such a wonderful smell that I have occasionally weakened.
Conclusion: The most challenging thing Iron Bark III is likely to do is a summer trip to the Arctic or a few months in Patagonia, with no venture lasting more than 6 months without resupply. Propane is the way for me to go for now. If I decide to make another long expedition I will then fit a kerosene cooker. To keep it in perspective, that will cost less than a chart plotter.
Good to hear from you and thanks for a great analysis.
Interested that you would say that kero is safer than diesel. Could you expand on why you say that?
Also, good point on the complexity and electrical use of diesel. I missed that, but will add it now.
I don’t think there is much difference in the safety of kero and diesel. Their flash points are similar and above room temperature (minimum 38 deg C, more in most formulations). The difference safety between them is largely the result of how the fuel is delivered to the burner. Kerosene is usually pressurised to 2-4psi, which can spray unburned fuel around if mishandled. The result is a spectacular but generally harmless flare up; turn the stove off and it burns off with no harm other than a mess to clean up. Drip-fed diesel stoves can blow out due to down drafting then re-ignite with a bang. Again this is spectacular but generally harmless. The worst fire I have had was due to a stuck float valve in a drip fed diesel heater. I turned it off at the tank and stood by with a fire extinguisher which I did not need to use, but the stove glowed red before going out.
The intrinsic safety of a fuel depends largely on its volatility and flash point: the higher its flash point and lower its volatility the safer it is. Unfortunately ease of use requires exactly the opposite properties: low flash point to light easily and high volatility for ease of heat control. Propane is the most volatile and lowest flash point fuel in general use on boats and potentially the most dangerous, but it is also the easiest to light and control. Carbon (coal, coke etc) is at the other end of the spectrum both in safety and ease of use (safest but hardest to light and regulate) with diesel/kerosene and alcohol in between.
Convenience of use generally triumphs over absolute safety and most boats cook use propane rather than on an Agga stove burning coke, relying on careful installation and good maintenance to control propane’s dangers. Kerosene/diesel are a compromise, intrinsically safer than propane but requiring more effort to light and control. There is no free lunch here.
Thanks for the fill on that. I particularly liked your point about not getting fixated on “absolute safety”.
One place I differ a little is on the dangers of leaking pressurized liquid fuel. I vividly remember that back in the day of pressure alcohol stoves several boats were lost when burning fuel leaked into difficult to reach places and I think the same could happen with both diesel and kero. That said, as you point out, the flash point of both is lower than alcohol, so that’s to the good, but still, it won’t help if the fuel is already well alight when leaking.
Anyway, bottom line, all fuels have dangers and all these dangers can be managed.
Gas or kerosene, I guess it all is based on what your experiences are, the same way antoher guy can love the girl you just divorced..
We had an Taylors kerosene stove in our Gyda which we sailed around northern waters for 9 years. We just loved that stove. It was extremely fuel efficient, totaly 4 liters on a summer season of 8 weeks circumnavigating the Svalbard archipelago. During sailing we lighted one of the three burners, and it kept the whole boat warm and dry all day, no chimney needed.
We could boil water for a cup of tea within minutes. It was of course gimbled.
The kerosene we used, called Fritidsparafin in Norway (directly translated: “Leisure Kerosine” in English) is easily available in every gasoline station throughout. This kerosene does not smell anything. I mean; absolutely no smell at all.
Spilled on a surface it’s almost impossible to tell it apart from water. It burns very clean, with a flame that doesn’t produce any smoke or soot.
Yes, it takes 3 minutes to light it, but taking into consideration the rush we are in when cruising, I think that´s manageable with in good margin. Last but not least, no worry of any explosion that will blow you and your boat in to the heaven.
Thanks for the report.
For others: We cruised in company with a Norwegian boat using the same stove and fuel and I assure you there is a smell, it’s just that those pickled in it don’t notice it. That said, all us cruisers tend to smell faintly of diesel so what the heck.
Does anyone use CNG anymore? I know it’s getting harder to find, but it seems to have all the benefits of propane and being lighter than air, it’s quite a bit safer. I can’t speak to global availability.
As far as I know, it’s pretty much impossible to get outside of the US east coast, and difficult there. This was the reason it never caught on. The other issue is that the energy density is lower than propane and the cylinders need to be heavier due the pressure required to keep it liquid. That said, if it was readily available it would indeed be a good option.
I never want to miss the chance of boosting paraffin cookers, and I think the comments cover most of the positives. I am of course offended by the comments about my poor sense of smell, but maybe we can find a potential benefit of the covid virus in this respect?Three comments to add to the list: 1) paraffin has a host of other uses on board as a cleaning and degreasing agent, 2) the roaring of the stove boiling up water for a morning cup of tea is wonderful, 3) the pre-heating problem has been completely resolved with a simple but clever device, a donut-shaped absorbent material on a wire frame which is dunked in a wide-mouthed plastic jar of meths, then placed around the burner. Spill-free and holds just the right amount to pre-heat the burner. In the interest of even-handedness, I must also point out that combustion paraffin stoves also produces water vapour. 😉
I have a Dallas diesel cooker on my boat. I chose it because of the convenience and safety of the fuel
First trip to the Med from the UK the gimbals broke, they were replaced with stronger ones which have worked fine since.
The oven and the hob work well.
However the real problem for me and why I am getting rid of it is the exhaust which is not strong enough for a gimballed stove. It is 2 flexible stainless steel pipes which break and leak fumes.
The exhaust exits through a dorade above the galley, this has been through some quite serious weather and is not a problem, though I have a drain at the lowest point of both exhausts.
I did go the the agents near Manchester who were very helpful and taught me how to service the stove.
I think the Wallas is better suited to a boat which does not need a gimballed stove.
Great and very balanced report that will be useful to others, thanks.
Given that the popular Origo alcohol stoves are no longer available new I was surprised to find this Italian 2 burner stove top at a local camper show here in Brisbane:
It looked to use good materials, well made and it felt nice to handle. Sorry if that isn’t a direct link to the manufacturer. The local price here is A$430 for the 2 burner version.
Apparently, there are still multiple manufacturers of [semi]copies of Origo stoves. I’ve posted a link to another one above in this thread. Unfortunately, no one seems to want to manufacture a copy of the much sought after Origo oven.
Yes, we use Kero as an aphrodisiac, a dab behind the ears is all we need. LOL
We do not find the odor offensive. And there is a learning curve for kero cookers. Most of the negatives listed above are simply part if the learning experience, once you figure it out they are no problem. No explosion hazard, no need for gas detectors or solonoids. I carry a small parts kit and once in a while I need to delve into it. But it does take a while to climb the learning curve and most folks don’t care to make that investment.
We had picked up an old Taulors cooker out of a sunker. It was about as old as me, and that is OLD. I put in new/used burners and it worked fine. But it looked the devil. So this year we picked up a newer used Taylors and it looks so much better. The kero stove in the other boat is 35 years old and works as good as day 1.
We have a cooker and bulkhead heater in both of our boats and a 2 burner kero cooker in our hunting cabin. That cabin also has a Dickensen Adriatic cooker. I find that more troublesome. But the big issue is that it heats the whole cabin and is slow to cook on. With the stove top hot enough to cook bacon and eggs it is giving. 40°F temperature rise inside, at least. Thats great in deer season but not so much in warmer months. That is why we have the 2 burner unit.
I get it, kero is not for normal folks. But works a charm for those of us who have mastered it.
That seems a very fair analysis, thanks.