On numerous occasions, I’ve needed to light something where I didn’t really have the right “tool” to do it without also burning my fingers or something else I considered valuable . . . or things just smoldered, instead of burned. What’s a cruiser to do?
Necessity is the mother of invention. In several different situations, Dave and I looked around the boat and tried different things until we came up with some pretty good solutions. No, we didn’t use the outboard gas (extremely dangerous — don’t!) or the diesel fuel . . . or even the motor oil or ATF.
The best tools for lighting a gas stove or grill that doesn’t have its own igniter are either a butane lighter with a long nose, like that pictured, or kitchen matches. But sometimes all we could get were little cigarette lighters or book matches. Both put our fingers in jeopardy!
Just lighting a piece of paper didn’t work too well — it tended to smolder rather than produce a nice flame. Then we harkened back to pioneer days — cooking grease was the answer!
Twist a piece of paper into a roll or use a strip of cardboard, then dip it in cooking oil. At various times, we used bacon grease, leftover cooking oil in a pan, or just our cheapest vegetable oil. The light the end that has the oil on it. This produced a great little taper with a nice flame that burned slowly enough to keep our fingers safe, but worked well to light the primary fire.
In the photo at right, I’ve used a small piece of a used paper towel and a couple of drops of vegetable oil. Curious to see how long it really would burn, I timed it — it had a nice flame for over 30 seconds before getting close to my fingers.
I’ve also used a little twist of waxed paper and it also produced a nice flame, but burned much faster.
Lighting a Bonfire or Trash Fire
Yes, burning trash can be controversial. However, when the local custom was just to dump trash into the ocean or in a ditch, we thought that it was better to burn what we could. A firestarter wouldn’t always do the job by itself, though — and we didn’t always have one.
Many times, we needed something that would burn longer to get damp kindling going for a bonfire, or coax trash into burning. Credit Dave’s daughter Sheila for this idea: Loosely stuff some dry paper trash (newspaper is good if you have some) into a toilet paper roll with the ends sticking out. Again, use a little cooking oil or other fat on the tube and paper and tuck it into the burn pile with the end sticking out to light, then light it.
Instead of cooking fat, you can also use a squirt of charcoal lighter fluid if you have any — but be careful lighting it!
Another solution comes from my Girl Scout days: candle kisses. If you have some old bits of candles on board, cut them into 1″ lengths and wrap them in waxed paper like a Tootsie Roll. Tuck one in at the bottom of the burn pile and light the waxed paper end. While this works really well, we almost never had candles aboard!
Lighting Charcoal without Charcoal Lighter Fluid
While most boats have gas grills, some (including many charter boats) use charcoal — and charcoal can also be great for a beach barbecue if you’re in an area without much driftwood or dead branches ashore. Outside the US and Canada, though, charcoal lighter fluid isn’t nearly as easy to find as charcoal (although it is common in certain locales).
Trying to light charcoal by laying down paper and then mounding up the charcoal over it and lighting the charcoal frankly doesn’t work well.
A much better solution is to save a coffee can or other large can and cut both ends out. You don’t need to cut air holes in the can — instead, place a couple of pieces of charcoal, sticks or stones under the bottom end so that it’s not flush with the ground and air can enter. Lay a toilet paper tube stuffed with paper and coated with a bit of oil, as for a bonfire, under the can with an end sticking out to light, then fill the can with charcoal.
Light the starter bit and wait about 20 minutes for the charcoal to be ready (gray on the outside), then use a pair of tongs or pliers to remove the can, then spread the coals out. Depending on the size of the can and the amount of charcoal needed if you’re having a beach party for a number of boats, you may need several cans.
You can buy a commercially-made version of this, called a “charcoal chimney.” I first saw it in action when my dad married my stepmother and while it works well, I didn’t see that it did any better than the coffee can!
Okay, for liability purposes I have to put in some sort of a warning about being careful around fire, not lighting a fire near gasoline, making sure it’s not too windy that the fire will spread unintentionally, having a bucket of water handy and so on. Yes, you’re responsible for your own actions and using fire responsibly! But you wouldn’t be cruising if you weren’t willing to be responsible for your own actions, right?