We have a Newport diesel heater in our main saloon. It uses very little fuel – something like a gallon a day – and has a little overflow / return line in case the fuel pot does overfill or we’re underway and it is rough enough for the pot to spill. We purchased it used on Craigslist in 2011, installed it in 2012 but really didn’t use it a lot until 2014.
The photo below was taken in early 2013 when we’d finally gotten around to plumbing the fuel lines and testing it. The previous owner of the heater had, for some reason plumbed the copper overflow pipe out the front of the heater and we set it up, tested it with a glass mason jar secured to the bulkhead, sitting inside a plastic shoebin – as shown here. Very “Rube” but functional. We liked how it worked so David just plumbed the overflow behind the heater tray, drilled a hole in a mason jar lid for the copper pipe to go into and there we had it – a visible system that we could watch but yet contained (though small). Originally, I had planned on enclosing (in a box under the heater) the small gas can shown in the picture sitting in front of the temporarily plumbed overflow. But we worried that we wouldn’t see the overflowing fuel until it was too late so kept the “clear” system in place.
The fuel has rarely ever overflowed. For about a year I’ve had 1/2” of diesel fuel in the bottom of the mason jar from an “oops!” on the pre-start fuel. I could see it through the clear jar and clear bin. I keep a single paper towel and another (empty but capped) mason jar in the bin next to the overflow jar. Sometimes the empty jar has diesel fuel in it because David bleeds the fuel system into the jar and I used that bled fuel as a starter for the Newport heater.
A few days ago Beryl began to act…peculiar. She is normally a calm and quiet cat, frequently happy and trilling in that Norwegian Forest Cat way and infrequently complaining about her little life aboard. But she has been whining in a cat-like meow way – no trill, no happy, no fun little chirps. Checking the usual food bowl and water bowl culprits, I could see all was good for Beryl. We petted her, we played with her but still the whining persisted.
Beryl has a habit of covering things up when she finds them unpleasant. So, if she upchucks a hairball, she will wander around until she finds a bit of paper or a napkin. A keenex, or paper towel from the trash will do to cover up the offending mess as well. She is consistent in this. If I see papers on the sole, I know what will be under them.
I often give David a paper towel to use as a napkin and he will set it on the main saloon seat next to him. Beryl has recently been taking these paper towels, shredding them a bit and placing them in the clear shoe bin where I keep the lone paper towel that I tear a strip off of to use as a wick in lighting the heater. I thought “oh, how cute, she knows this is a place to keep a paper towel” and I looked at the bin noting that the diesel was a tiny bit over an inch in the mason jar. Huh, wonder how that happened?
Yesterday, the diesel heater was running a bit strangely and I thought it must be time to clean the pot – an occasional affair as the pot fills with a lava rock looking type material that takes up space in the bottom of the pot. I also thought that perhaps that was why the mason jar had risen an inch in diesel. I thought to myself – this diesel is road diesel, almost clear without the familiar red tinge of fuel dock diesel. It’s harder to see this diesel and I’d better be careful to watch the jar.
Fine intentions. When we leave the boat, I turn off the diesel heater. We went to the YMCA last night so the heater was off. As I turned it back on as we returned to a somewhat cold boat, I saw that Beryl had placed all the paper towels and napkins she could find into the shoe bin and I thought – this is nuts, at this rate she’ll be raiding the trash for more! And she whined at me, taking one of the paper towels out of the shoe bin, shredding it and looking at me in a meaningful way that I was missing entirely. I put the paper towel back in to the overflow shoe bin automatically not even putting it in the trash instead!
Today, David and I puttered a bit in the morning, dealt with phone calls and then took the dingy out for a little trip around the nearby surrounds. We did leave the heater on during our brief time away and as we returned to the boat I smelled diesel and thought “odd.” A few minutes later I saw the mason jar was completely full with the overflow going into the shoe bin which was also at the brim! Yikes. I turned off the heater and fuel pump, and I emptied the mess into one of my enamelware kitchen pots noting that it would be less of a mess without all of Beryl’s “extra” paper towels now diesel soaked.
We turned off the bilge pump, opened up the sole and placed a diesel absorbent mat into the bilge directly below the heater as a few ounces of fuel had actually made it onto the sole. David vacuumed the floor as I inspected the area and emptied the diesel-filled shoe bin to the enamel pot. Beryl sat watching the activities with her usual interest in everything we do. When we were done, David and I looked at each other and said “Whew! That was close!” as Beryl chirped and trilled happily that we’d finally dealt with the mess she’d been warning us about for three days.