Strike while the iron’s hot, 16.11.2013

Our Morso in full working order

I think even the most hardened and experienced of boaters learn new things everyday on the river. It is one of the most beautiful things about this lifestyle – that never-ending sense of developing and acquiring new knowledge and better ways of solving the same problems. I can see why some people I have met in my life have recommended the practical path so strongly to me. There is something as complex, compelling, infinite and challenging about simple, practical problems as there is about the most abstruse problems in mathematics or literary criticism, say.

Our recent experiences with our Morso ‘squirrel’ wood-burning stove have shown this to me. Of course there are some boaters who would “bah” at us for not knowing this sooner, but with boating as with life in general, you must make your own mistakes and learn your own lessons. Excellent advice is easily lost on deaf or uninformed ears.

The Morso stove is the perfect case-in-point. We knew that the stove we inherited with the boat was not performing optimally. It was a strange creature – I don’t know where Richard got it from. It had gone through several hands, and therefore several designers. Someone had angle-grinded a large hole at the back of it (presumably to fit a back-boiler), and had since covered the hole with a sheet of loose iron. Someone else had gutted the inside of the stove and removed all its parts – probably to sell on. (Morso parts fetch a high price on the market, even on ebay, it is hard to find one of these well manufactured Scandinavian parts for less than £30.)

Despite this, it was still possible to build a fire inside it that could get hot enough to burn coal fairly well. But we did not know enough about boats and woodburning stove too know just what we were missing out on.

Over the past five days Gideon has been treasure hunting. Scouring the online marketplaces and official stores we have put together the wonderful internal steel jigsaw puzzle of a Morso stove. We bought stoves ‘bricks’ (not at all like normal bricks it turns out), we bought an internal ‘grate’ and a ‘riddle’ (for riddling coals and sifting ash). Best of all we bought a ‘baffle’ to help insulate and protect the stove as well as help draw the heat better. Our handy new vehicle ‘Rocinante’ the trailer, played his part in all these purchases.

Our Morso in full working order

Today, on one of the blissfully clear, cold days that has blessed the south of England recently, we assembled her. The transformation is astonishing and even more noticeable that I expected.

Before, even when I built a ferocious fire the actual warmth produced was only noticeable in the immediate environs of the stove. We both were usually wearing more than two jumpers in the evenings. Our bedroom, by the prow of the boat, was still freezing, and worst of all, a little damp. Now after just twenty minutes the entire boat is so warm that we are walking around in T-shirts. Even our bedroom is temperate. Clothes hanging up by the fire dry in a matter of minutes.

Our life has dramatically improved for the better. It is as significant a moment as when we finally changed to a dependable 12 volt circuitry for our lighting. Now we have heat and light and plenty of fuel from felled trees and stray logs in Wick Wood. I can finally imagine lasting out this winter – our first winter on Hawisia.

The Fire, 10.10.2013

It’s nearly 8 o’ clock. I have a lovely hot fire crackling beside me. It reminds me of something lovely that Roger Deakin once wrote:

“I really do want people to come home to a real fire. A nation without the flames of fire in the hearth, and birds singing outside the        open window, has lost its soul. To have an ancient carboniferous fire brought to life at the centre of your home, its flames budding and shooting up like young trees, is a work of magic.”

     Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, p. 155

Our wood burning stove is right in the middle of the boat. It heats up the surrounding air like an agar oven. The other night, just as we prepared to go to bed Gideon and I were suddenly worried that something had caught on fire. There was a peculiar smell in the air. It didn’t smell like wood smoke… There were still some coals smouldering in the grate, but it seemed surprising that the smell was so distinctive and acute.

Gideon scampered outside in his underwear to check that the chimney wasn’t on fire. Silly us. It turned out that it was the coals after all. Gideon had loaded the hearth up with them. The smell they produce after a while is very different to the smell of wood smoke. It is deeper, richer, more oaken.

Jobo said that during the winter he has become so expert as setting up fires that he could make up exactly the right sort of fire in the morning to last the rest of the day – even if he left the boat. That way, when he returns, the boat is snug and warm in the evening for his arrival.

The wood and coal in the intensity of their heat have broken down into a kind of piping hot orange stew. Their skin is petrified by the heat and brakes off in scales or crusts of heat. They have become like crackling spines. When I nudge them with my brass poker the scaly crust breaks apart tenderly or yawns open like segments of an orange. I think of the recipe I wrote up for the charity earlier, or perhaps that marvellous description of summer heat in Bruno Scholtz’s lovely collection Cinnamon Shops.

A cold wind has blown through England over the past few days. Gideon has left to go to Sheffield so I have no company to keep me warm in the evenings. I spend most of my time reading and writing, and occasionally watching something online. I have been watching Kenneth Clarke’s ‘Civilisation’ series recently. That, and with Harry, Jeremy Brett’s wonderful adaptation of Conan Doyle’s novels.