Hands up if you own a gas barbecue. Too many to count. OK, now, how many of you have tent trailers or camper vans that use gas (propane if you like)? I used propane for many years while living in Canada and never had an accident. Always very careful how I used it and made sure all the connections were secure. I’m sure some of you have stories if gas gone wrong, but most of you are alive to tell them. Gas is safe and yet gas is scary.
Especially on a narrow canal boat. Charlie the Amazon says so anyway. When the crisis occurred on our boat, I called Charlie over for advice and she said, “Yeah, gas on a boat. Scares the shit out of me.” That’s what my best friend needed to hear. She was ready to abandon ship. Using and outdoor BBQ is one thing, but on a 60 foot steel tube it’s another. The gas bottles are not actually inside the boat you understand. They are situated in a steel enclosure on the stern (back) deck with an airing hole to get rid of any gas residue. Never a whiff of gas for the last two months and all the way down The Cut to our present mooring. Until the other night after supper.
The Inland Waterways Hand Book begins its section on gas by stating, “Bottled gas, used for cookers (what Canadians call stoves) fridges and heaters, is perfectly safe if handled correctly but it can be dangerous if fumes escape.” The fumes, apparently, go down into the bilge where they are trapped until someone turns on a light or creates a spark, then…BOOM! Think Titanic but on a smaller scale and not in as deep water. One thing we don’t have to contend with on canal boats is icebergs. Not yet at least. Climate change may have something to say about that some day, but no time soon I think.
The Handbook also gives advice what to do if such a leak occurs. Like, ‘Get to hell off the boat’ for a start. Not an exact quote by the way. Lots of things to do to make sure all is well. I remember reading the page on gas before the Helmsman’s Course but on rereading it I see I had forgotten so many of the tips. Typical male. Get what you need from the instructions if you read them at all and then forget them. I had to get the book out again for this Blog. Just can’t keep everything in this old head.
Our problem began the day Phil came along. Everything was fine before that. We had used our gas stove on numerous occasions without incident. And every night we turned off the gas just as the handbook says to do. We have been, in a word, diligent. But Phil messed it all up in one swift go. I’m sure he’d see it differently, but that’s his prerogative.
You see, we have two 13kg. bottles. One was being used and had about 3/4 of a bottle left. I think. There’s no gauge, so you just don’t know. The bottles I’ve used for barbecuing are smaller and they seemed to last a long time. But I didn’t BBQ every night, so….who knows. Some of you might, but even if you told me I’d forget and start guessing all over again. The other bottle was empty, thanks to the previous owner of our boat who decided to leave it that way. My best friend was worried that we might run out and I promised the next time the gas man came around I’d get another bottle.
The gas man. Phil. He has a 70 foot boat and goes up and down The Cut with his lady and two dogs delivering gas, diesel and coal to boaters along the way. One afternoon some guy moored up near our marina in just such a boat and I astutely surmised that this must be Phil. He walked by our boat a little later and I said, “Are you the Phil that sells gas and stuff?” Not very eloquent, but it got my point across. “Yes, I am,” he said. “I thought you looked at me when you passed the boat as if you wanted to say something.” I did but I didn’t at the time. I asked if he did gas. I knew he did and asked anyway. He affirmed he did and I said I’d be over later with the empty bottle.
Then came the fun part. Getting the empty bottle out of the hold. I had to unhook both bottles and remove the one being used to get at the empty one. The spanner (wrench) that came with the units was useless. I couldn’t get the damned linking bolt to budge. What to do? Call over Charlie the Amazon of course. She’s getting used to this newbie begging for help now. Turns out I needed it. She had just the tool and said my spanner (read previous owner’s) was rubbish. I freed the bottles and took them both out, being careful to put the dangling hoses to one side. I had also turned off the valve that chooses which bottle is being used and all seemed well.
Phil was waiting at his boat and the exchange was made. The new bottle weighed a tone….felt like it anyway. Phil’s lady offered to bring it over on a dolly, but I didn’t want to appear wussy. By the time I got back to our boat, I was knackered and my arms were ready to fall off. But I did it. Then came the task of tying the bottles back in, hooking them up and turning the old one back on. I thought I had done it well until after dinner when my best friend said she smelled rotten farts beside the stove. I smelled boiled cabbage….much the same really, but my description is more delicate. I went out on deck, not an easy task with the cratch cover over the stern (rain you know…well, it is England).
I lifted the lid covering the bottles and a definite smell of gas was present. Panic ensued. That’s when I called Charlie again. Twice in one day. Four is my record. Well, she’s so damned knowledgeable. “Get me a drop of liquid dish soap in some water in a spray bottle” she said. My best friend emptied a spray bottle of its lavender contents and mixed water and dish soap. Charlie sprayed the concoction over the joints between bottles and hose. “There” she said. “Watch that for a minute. I’ve got to take care of something. If it starts to bubble up, get the hell off the boat.” I watched intently while thinking, so, if it bubbles, how long do I have to get clear?
No bubbles. All was well. Just some residue from the change-over. Wish Phil had mentioned that, but I can’t blame him. I was the one acting like a seasoned sailor. Still, I think I shall blame Phil anyway. None of this would have happened if Phil had stayed away. We would have eventually run out of gas and having no means to cook would have had to rely on the local pub. Wherever their gas line is, if indeed they use the stuff, I’ll be nowhere near it.