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Replacing the Ship's Stove

Posted - July 2015

For the first 49 seasons of use, our 1965 Alberg 35 had a simple, two-burner propane camping stove as the primary cooking implement in the galley. A couple of long weekends with some hungry teenagers aboard, however, suggested that the stove be upgraded to something a little more versatile. Besides, the old stove had served well and was beginning to succumb to age with corrosion in various places getting pronounced enough that it was no longer a cosmetic issue.

Selecting a New Stove

What was needed in the new stove was really just a modest improvement over the old one. Constraints to the interior layout limited the physical dimensions of the new stove. In addition, any increase in stove size would cut into the storage compartments used to store cooking implements, so a delicate balance had to be reached.

The first filter to apply to the selection of stoves available was fuel type. Since our boat was already configured to use propane for cooking, we decided to stay with that fuel source for the time being. While propane has both advantages and disadvantages, it was a fuel with which we were familiar.

Next we looked at the size of the space available and what would fit into it. While it would have been nice to upgrade to a third burner, this made the stoves large enough to require major surgery to the interior cabinetry to make them fit, so we rapidly came to the conclusion that two burners would be a practical limit.

The next question was gimbaling. The old stove simply sat on a fixed shelf, so over the years we had fabricated a system of potholders that would keep our meals located on the burners under most reasonable conditions and we did our best to never over-fill pots. Gimballing would have been a nice option, but it was not a priority over other stove functionality.

“Marine” stoves were researched and it quickly became apparent that they were all well outside of our budget, even used ones. While an all-stainless steel unit is definitely warranted for boats in salt water, our cruising grounds are in the Great Lakes where corrosion is not nearly the problem it is elsewhere. As a result, marine stoves were ruled out for financial reasons and we started looking at the “camping” alternatives. Since we had been living with a camping stove for so long, this was not viewed as a major compromise and the $1,000 price difference went a long way to help rationalize this decision.

In the end, we narrowed our selection to a particular two-burner stove with an oven that could accommodate a 13 x 9 baking pan. The dimensions were optimal for the space that was available, and the unit enjoyed highly favorable ratings from customers who had purchased it.

Once the new stove was obtained, it was connected up to a propane bottle in my workshop and fired it up – all burners set to “high” and the oven set to its maximum temperature. After about half an hour, a thermal camera was used to identify hot spots on the exterior of the unit that might require special shielding and/or ventilation. The good news was that the exterior of the unit remained quite cool except for the oven vent in the top rear of the unit. As a result, 4-inches of space was allowed behind the unit for proper ventilation of the oven.

Preparing the Space

The old stove was rather small, standing less than 4-inches tall. This allowed the galley to have a fairly sizeable drawer and reasonable cupboard below the stove. Additional storage was immediately behind the stove in another cubby located below the shelving unit against the inside of the hull.

The new stove stood almost 18-inches high, but fortunately had a similar footprint in the horizontal plane. This meant that the drawer and most of the cupboard below it would be sacrificed, but the cubby behind the stove could remain.

After removing the drawer and cupboard contents, an oscillating cutting tool was used to remove the shelf. During this operation it became obvious that the galley cabinetry had been assembled prior to being installed on the boat (even before the deck had been put into place). Numerous screws had to be cut through in order to get the shelf removed. Even more had to be cut to remove the drawer supports and front trim panel.

A pair of cleats were installed at the appropriate height to support the new shelf on which the stove would rest. The most difficult aspect of this task was to ensure that the cleats were level relative to the countertops in the galley.

Plywood panels were veneered with mahogany. These panels would serve as the shelf and side panels of the now gutted space for the new stove.

With the panels in place, the new stove was test-fitted. After some minor adjustments, the new shelf and panels were screwed into place and solid mahogany trim was used to hide seams and screw heads.

Installing the New Stove

With the panels in place and fitted, the new stove was positioned and the space was finished off.

Being a camping stove, the propane pressure regulator was located on the back side of the unit where it attached to the stove with a proprietary fitting. Fortunately, the fitting mated with the regulator using a standard 1/8-inch pipe thread. This allowed us to remove the fitting from the regulator and, using an adapter, connect it to our existing low-pressure (10 psi) propane line. This modification was necessary in order to avoid having a high-pressure (~350 psi) propane line traveling from the propane locker through the boat.

Naturally, you want to check all of the connections for leaks before putting a propane line into service. Teflon pipe tape and soapy water are your best friends here!

The trim piece covering the front of the shelf stands proud of the shelf surface to prevent the stove from sliding off the shelf. Similarly, the cleats holding the metal bar prevent the stove from tipping forward when heeled to starboard, and similar cleats behind the stove contain it when heeling to port. The metal bar also serves as an attachment point for potholders to restrain meals being cooked while underway.

Cooking implements will still fit in the cubby behind the stove and the larger pots and pans will still fit in the cupboard below. The drawer front will be recycled as the new cupboard door.

The original finish inside of an Alberg 35 was a wood-grained Formica surface. Easy to clean, but not so pretty to look at. As interior modifications proceed, these surfaces are being roughed up, veneered with mahogany, and varnished so as to provide a finish with an elegance that matches the Alberg 35’s ability to sail and provides the dignity that comes with being a classic yacht with 50 years of sailing experience.

Commissioning and Field Testing

Of course, once the stove was installed, it had to be commissioned and tested under operating conditions, so we set out on a six-day cruise to try it out!

A definite plus with the new stove was the piezoelectric igniters for the burners. No more fumbling around in a drawer to find a match or lighter to ignite a burner. Lighting a burner could now be accomplished with one hand in the time it took to turn on the propane and twist a knob. A cup of coffee could be made in under 2 minutes. (A fellow sailor introduced us to prepackaged coffee in “tea bags” that make preparing this beverage a breeze!)

More thorough “testing” was done by the younger members of our crew. The first exercise was to bake chocolate chip cookies while underway. Only six cookies were eventually produced, but this relatively low yield was not due to any fault of the stove or oven. Rather, the cooks kept eating the cookie dough before it could be baked! The oven proved itself later in the voyage when a pizza was prepared.

Temperatures around the unit were monitored by the cook to ensure that the ventilation and spacing provided was adequate, and it was. There were no unacceptable hot spots discovered even during extended baking runs with the oven.

Overall, the new stove has proven itself to be much easier to use and provides our crew with a greater variety of food choices when underway. I’m looking forward to another trip so that we can do even more culinary explorations while aboard.


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References

Stove: Camp Chef outdoor camp oven and 2-burner range. Available at Gander Mountain.

Mahogany Veneer: African mahogany veneer in 2 x 8 ft. sheets was obtained from CabinetParts.com.