By Jim Favors
By the time we arrived in Marathon, Florida this past winter, we had owned our Ranger Tug for seven months. We've had fun cruising, trailering, and exploring on the new Kismet; we were rather astounded, though, when we looked back and began to calculate our travels. During this period of time we'd boated in seven states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, Alabama and now Florida. We had towed our boat from the Northwest corner of the United States east to the Great Lakes and then all the way Southeast, to the Florida Keys. Our cruising had been in both fresh and salt water in many rivers, lakes, bays, and sounds. We are beginning to feel fairly comfortable with how the boat handles, how it performs on the water, trailering and towing. We hadn’t forgotten to install the drain plug before launching; we hadn’t left the boat windows open while trailering and we’d always remembered to lower the mast and antenna when we trailered the boat down the road. Heck, it was all beginning to seem second nature to us, that is… all except for having enough propane.
The propane locker (above left) securely and safely houses our propane tank (above – right).
Kismet is equipped with a propane powered stovetop and oven. We'd always had an electric combo unit in the past so having this propane setup on a boat was new for us. I know what you may be thinking, and I thought the same thing – propane and boats don't go together, but I soon learned that with the properly installed safety features available with propane-powered equipment today, propane is a very safe option on a boat. In reviewing the safety measures, I learned that the propane tank needs to be mounted outside of the cabin, inside of an enclosed locker. In addition there should be an electric panel on/off switch that controls power to the igniter. One of the most important safety measures is to have a gas sniffer in the interior of the boat cabin close to the oven, in order to detect and warn of any gas leaks. In addition to all this, it takes two hands to ignite the gas on our stove. The benefit of this is someone cannot accidentally turn the gas on by leaning or falling onto one of the stove’s knobs; we have to push and hold in one knob to activate the igniter and simultaneously push and hold a burner knob in order to activate the gas and produce a flame. This is better than childproof, it took me three weeks to master. It took a lot longer, though, to calculate how much gas we were using, where and how to recharge the gas canister and that it makes perfect sense to have a spare tank available.
The activation knob (above – left) on the left hand side of the stove needs to be held in, along with the burner or oven knob, before anything will ignite. The sniffer (above – right) would warn us of any gas leak.
It was on our second day in Marathon that Lisa asked if we had enough propane to prepare a dinner we were having for quests that evening. She asked me because the tank sits on the outside of the cabin and therefore it’s considered an outside job and falls under my jurisdiction. (As a general rule, Lisa takes care of everything on the inside of the boat; I take care of everything outside.) As I mentioned earlier, by this time we had owned our boat for seven months, over that period of time I had deduced that a gallon tank of propane (5 lbs.) would last approximately four weeks. So, when she asked, I was very confident when I told her, "Don't worry, there's plenty of gas," and as it turned out there was – that time. Somehow, by the look in her face, I could tell she didn't completely trust my guesswork. But this whole guessing game of, "Do we have enough propane on hand to make, and complete, dinner" got me thinking about the learning curve I had to go through to get to the point where I knew, with certainty, that we'd be able to eat dinner that night when our guests arrived.
An old boating friend of ours used to say, when he got into trouble for something with his wife, that he "received a hot tongue and a cold shoulder." This sentiment, although not 100% accurate in my case, is close to the reaction I received from Lisa when we ran out of propane. Let me be clear though, it was not Lisa’s reaction the first time it happened (remember, this was a mutual learning experience), or not even the second time (mistakes can happen) but by the time we ran out a third time I was in big doo-doo, at least for a short period of time. The reason is that Lisa takes a great deal of pride in the meals she prepares and having to deal with my propane mismanagement in the middle of a full blown gourmet meal was wearing thin by the third go around. In fact I was beginning to see that my future meals might soon be reduced to anchor food (easy to fix food while anchored out and Lisa doesn’t want to cook) on a regular basis if I didn’t get this propane thing under control.
Locating a place to refill our propane tanks is typically not a problem; it's the times when you need to have one filled that it can become problematic. I've learned to be alert and take notice of places that provide propane when at dock or while trailering, but if you run out after hours (usually this mean dinnertime), while at anchor or if you leave the spare tank in the truck, because space is limited on a trailerable boat, 100 miles away from you, you're simply out of luck… just as we were on three different occasions.
On the left you see one light lit, this indicates power is available for the stove, however the stove will not start unless you push a button and two lights are lit (above – right). The second light indicates power is being delivered to the igniter.
Our first propane episode occurred at a remote anchorage on Lake Tahoe in Emerald Bay on the California side of the lake. Before we launched the boat for a three-day trip, Lisa asked if we had enough propane. I had recently inspected the tank and when I lifted it up to gauge its weight I thought to myself, "We can make it." Remember now, we had only had our boat about five weeks at this point and that first batch was sure to run out soon. Obviously, we were both a little optimistic concerning the propane. Shortly after we had our hook set and were getting ready to sit back to take in the Alpine wonders of Lake Tahoe, Lisa began to prepare dinner. "Something’s wrong with the stove," I heard filtering out from the cabin to the cockpit where I was relaxing with a cold beer. It couldn't be, I was so confident, but sure enough – it was empty. This was lesson number one and what I learned was that we should have a backup propane tank. We survived our first propane shortage with a lot of humor and by finishing dinner in the Crockpot that night, later we used that unit and the microwave for the remainder of the trip. Our boat was so new to us we had not even equipped it with a cockpit grill yet for barbecuing or in this case to use as a backup cooking device. Within a few weeks, we had purchased both a spare tank and a rail-mounted grill.
Propane episode number two happened while docked in Fort Myers Beach. We had just spent three wonderful weeks cruising from Tarpon Springs down Florida's west coast, our truck and trailer were stowed over a hundred miles north, back in Tarpon Springs. Our spare and fully loaded propane tank was securely stored in the bed of the truck. My calculations of one propane tank lasting four weeks were completely shattered when again I hear surprise in Lisa’s voice as it wafted from the cabin, "The stove stopped working." When I checked the tank it was frosted up like a Fudgesicle, indicating that it was bone dry. No problem, I thought as we now have a deck mounted grill with its own small canister of propane. Lisa was not amused and was almost as frosty as the propane canister. She thawed out some by the time I had completed cooking our meal on the grill, it was spaghetti – please don’t ask how I managed this as it wasn’t easy. Lesson two, for me, is to bring our spare propane tank on long trips to make sure we have hot meals and avoid frostiness on all units.
With our spare propane tank full and nicely stored over 100 miles away I ventured out the next day to have the empty tank refilled. I had found an RV park a few miles away, right off of the bus route. Fairly convenient I thought, until I got on the bus where the surly driver stated, "Where do you think you're going with that?" Catching on real quick, I stated that the tank was empty and I was going to get it refilled. He said that was good because propane is forbidden on the bus. Happy to get to the RV Park and have the tank refilled I figured I'd better camouflaged and stow the recharged propane tank in a black garbage bag for the return trip. Much to my surprise, and really… what are the chances – the same driver stopped to pick me up and immediately recognized me. He noticed the garbage bag right away and just shook his head in disbelief and looked the other way. I’m also just figuring out, this whole propane learning curve could get me into trouble in more ways than one.
The deck mounted grill was meant for cookouts but has helped bail me out of a couple of tough situations.
Lisa had everything prepared for the arrival of our friends to our boat in Marathon that night, but I still have to tell you about our third, and hopefully last, propane episode. With the lessons learned so far we now have a spare tank and will either keep it on our boat when we are on long cruises or in the truck, if the truck is with us at a marina. Sounds simple enough but wait there's another potential problem and of course it happened to me. Lisa ran out of propane the third time, but I calmly stated we had the spare tank in the bed of the truck and I'd quickly go retrieve it. Back at the boat I installed the spare tank and there was no pressure showing on the gauge. I guess at some point I had completely forgotten to have the empty tank filled. Lisa was a little more than perturbed with me this time, talk about getting "hot tongue and a cold shoulder." I was back at my grill duties, so I could finish up cooking the very nice gourmet dinner Lisa had already spent considerable time procuring and preparing. It was a little quiet around the boat that night. Lesson three for me is to always get an empty tank filled as soon as possible after it has run empty, so we can have a hot meal and I can stay out of the dog house. One would think I was trying to get into trouble on purpose, but the good news is I learned from my propane mishaps and I hope you can benefit from me sharing my mistakes.
Shortly after our dinner guests arrived and in the course of dinner conversation, Mike asked if we knew of a place in Marathon where he could get his propane tank refilled. Lisa and I just looked at each other smiling. I was a little leery to ask if he'd run out, like we had on three separate occasions, so I simply stated I knew of a place close by.