With our return to Lisbon in 2022 came the opportunity of tackling another long waited upgrade, the galley cooktop and oven.
Since the beginning of our boat travels we did not like the idea of LPG on the boat. Our reasons were related mostly to safety issues like leaks and carbon monoxide exposure but also to the fact that finding LPG refills or swaps was troublesome, time-consuming and expensive. As liveaboard sailors we would go through the 3kg LPG bottles (used on most European design boats) every three weeks or less, we were travelling to different countries where bottles and connections were very different, meaning changing the fittings often and collecting bottles that could not be used in the next countries we visited, adding extra costs to our budgets.
Let's also not forget about the moisture cooking with LPG generates (particularly annoying during winter), the toxic fumes released (no one talks about this but there is plenty of info about it), and the excess heat trapped inside the boat.
There was also the profound hate Ana developed towards the existing cooker.
The existing cooker, installed from the factory, was a marine unit from one of the popular brands, but one of the bigger models with three burners.
Because it was a three burner instead of two or even four it was a real pain to try and use the gimbal feature, so essential on sailboats, requiring constant adjustments. No matter how much we tried the gimbal would not work for us as easily as it should, and most times we would prefer to use a bigger pot and the pot holders and avoid the gimbal issue altogether. Although it had three burners it seemed like the flame options were either too low or too high. Cleaning it was also not an easy task due to the sharp edges that felt like razor blades and the straight corners where dirt seemed to always collect.
The oven section was even worse, a pathetic joke.
A terrible construction design that we used to refer to as the “sushi knife" due to the many raised sharp edges that made it so challenging to clean and with such poor quality that even the flame element would not give temperatures matching the ones on the dial. This made baking a process of guessing temperatures and praying for things to be cooked throughout and not only in the centre (in case we did not turn them often enough). To understand how the cooking was going it was necessary to open the oven multiple times to check temperatures and to turn the food around to ensure even cooking, wasting lots of LPG.
As Ana used to say: "her grandmother's 30-year-old domestic cooktop was better than this piece of expensive junk!"
For several years living onboard, we had the opportunity to try out a portable induction from IKEA, which we simply loved. So that was the path we wanted to pursue.
We looked in the market extensively for an electric induction and convection marine gimballed cooker and found a brand with a few options but the price was astronomical, well outside our desired budget. Prices for these units started at 3300 Euros (shipping not included) and the specifications were not that exciting due to the considerable power consumption.
We knew that we could get great quality domestic versions of appliances at much better prices, the challenges were finding the right units to fit the space we had available and how to gimbal these.
Most of the home-style cookers are built for a much bigger recess than the one most boats have including ours, they usually need a 600mm wide recess.
Our galley has a recess for the cooker of 540mm wide but in reality, the unit including the gimbal components can only take 500mm
The other focus point was their power consumption, we wanted to keep each of those appliances with a maximum power draw close to 2000 watts, to avoid having to upgrade our inverter and also to limit the power usage within reason.
This is where our plan began, we scoured the internet researching most known brands for their oven and cooktop models, trying to find the models that could suit our needs, the challenge was not an easy one except when it came to the induction top.
Being an IKEA fan Ana had an eye on one of their two hob units, the one she preferred was of course the one to be recessed on a kitchen benchtop, but they now also had a new portable unit with two hobs. Both had similar sizes.
Both had their strong points in favour, the portable unit had a great price, and the recessed unit had the capability of power limiting (needed often in European old homes with weak electrical systems).
With the specifications retrieved online in hand, we measured and measured, discussed it many times, argued about materials to be used for the new section of benchtop needed, and debated the mounting options to exhaustion without ever coming to a definitive decision. The problem was both units were limited in size to fit in the total space available so the mounting detail was crucial to make a decision.
A trip to IKEA was in order to make the final decision. With the two units in front of us, we got the opportunity to check them from all angles and debate the recessing of the unit with a better understanding of the position of ventilation grills etc. We decided to pick the more expensive unit, the Valbildad, because it allowed a more easy installation detail and had the power draw limiting feature (on power up a combination of buttons allows you to set the maximum combined power draw to 3700/3500/3000/2500/2000/1500 watts (Specification) that could be set if needed. We believed that in case the price difference was justifiable.
The decision of downsizing from a three-burner cooktop to two hobs was not a difficult one.
Not only it would be easier to gimbal the two hobs instead of three, the reality was we never had to use the three burners at the same time and because the stovetop is smaller than the standard European household stove top it only fits three pots at the same time if all of them are small.
We figured if we ever had the need of three hobs to be used at the same time we could always use the portable unit to fill that need.
The search for the oven with the size limitation we had was a much harder task, it seemed we could find only much smaller units very much like a microwave with the door opening sideways (very small capacity) toaster ovens that do not fit the bill of what we were looking for or the too big for us being traditional 600mm wide units with a drop-down door.
It felt like there was nothing in between.
Finally, John stumbled on a Panasonic unit that had a size we could work with while researching some South East Asian resources. But it seemed we could not find stock of that model anywhere in Europe, it was just bizarre. Through the same resources, we identified two Samsung models and then we found two LG models in a shop in Portugal.
We checked both but none seemed to fit the shoes of the Panasonic model, the Samsung had a much higher power consumption and after analysing it at the shop the heating element looked very cheap, while the LG model because it had a sideways opening door, was just a bit bigger than a microwave and much more expensive.
Our hearts were broken, it felt like we were on the wrong side of the world for this part of the project.
The frustration levels were high. Ordering it from outside of Europe meant paying extra taxes, expensive shipping costs and an unknown waiting time. John searched exhaustively on Amazon Germany and Spain and eventually found not only the Panasonic unit we had found previously but the newer version of that same model with a few more features.
We ordered the more recent model, the Panasonic NN-CS89LB, with the added steaming function for a difference of 100 Euros.
We were ecstatic! We had found the unit with the right dimension to fit the available space, the right door opening style (drop down) that maximised the available space to cook and the right power consumption.
Now we just needed to wait for the delivery to check the overall quality.
Another positive point of this unit was that it didn't have a rotating plate like conventional microwaves (one of the reasons we do t use the original microwave we have onboard as it is tricky to use under passage), all we needed was to get a silicon mat to ensure plates and glass trays wouldn't slide around. We even stumbled on a very cool silicon mat at the local supermarket that is to grill chicken winds (?!) judging the picture on the package. This silicon mat has little cones that keep objects slightly elevated, I thought it was the perfect solution for the new oven/microwave base.
Besides building a gimbal for the new appliances this project also included the refit of the cooker recess that was looking miserable. The yacht builder had used as liner a thin white acrylic used we guess as a wipe-friendly surface, but in fact not suitable for the purpose. Through the years, even with our reduced usage of the old oven, the acrylic had started to crack and warp with the radiant heat.
We needed to remove the old material and replace it with an adequate option. Once again, Ana had seen at IKEA a stainless steel kitchen backsplash liner in a copper colour that would almost blend with The Dream cabinetry wood colour. These panels called Lysekil were double-faced with copper colour on one side and silver on the other although not specific for the purpose wanted, they were safe to use behind an induction plate but not suitable for open flame cookers.
It took us a couple of days to complete the removal task as we were working on this project whenever we had some idle time on the main project for the season.
We then used the old acrylic pieces to template the new ones, which we then installed with the help of heat-resistant construction silicon.
The recess now looked stunning, probably too good to be hidden by the new appliances.
To build the new gimbal we coupled the new IKEA induction plate with a bamboo top (a bamboo cutting board) that we found in a local Portuguese hardware shop. The board was just 5mm bigger than we wanted, and it was easy to just trim it down sand and prepare to cut the opening for the hob installation.
The next big challenge was the frame and gimbal system to hold the microwave and induction top. We built this using some inexpensive light mild steel angles available from the local hardware shop, bending and folding them to form the corners for the box shape that would hold the oven. We then added a piece of marine ply as a base that reinforced the unit and provided a surface for the oven to sit.
With a supporting box built, the focus was making it gimbal.
We test-balanced the whole structure with the appliances fitted to find the best pivoting point for the gimbal bolts to be installed. It took us just a couple of attempts until we were satisfied with the whole assembly but at this point, it still looked very brute built.
To give it a better look we painted the entire structure with a back matte heat-resistant spray paint made for barbecues, making the frame almost unnoticeable when the oven was installed. We also added a slide bolt to lock the cooker in place and a decorative grill to give a more finished look to the ventilation gap between the induction top and the oven.
We had been very concerned with the ventilation needs of both units allowing as much airflow all around the appliances as possible.
With the gimbal challenge sorted, the concern was what to do regarding the pot holders/fiddles.
This generated a lot of headache and debate but in the end, simpler solutions are always the best, and John disassembled the original pot holder assembly from the old cooker and cut the relevant pieces to size before screwing them to the bamboo top. The problem was solved, and we did not need to make or buy new pot holders!
Fitting the new cooker unit was easy enough with both appliances being less deep than the original cooker we marked the position of the original holes for the gimbal bracket as a reference and moved the entire unit back and forward until we were happy with the alignment of the oven with the front of the cabinetry and with the height of the induction top.
We screwed the original bracket into the new position, and the entire unit slipped into the space.
This is how we wanted the galley to look and work!
In the end the project including the refurbish of the cooker recess cost a third of the price of the marine option.
IKEA two hob induction plate - 229 Euros
Panasonic NN-CS89LB - 869.30 Euros (including delivery)
IKEA backsplash (2 units) for recess refurbishment - 40 Euros but we bought it in promotion at half price
Hardware shop supplies for gimbal frame including paint - around 70 Euros
Total cost for project - was 1200 Euros
How we are going to power these new power hungry appliances is detailed on Victron LiFePo4 battery upgrade (coming soon)
***The Dream is not affiliated or sponsored by IKEA or by Panasonic, this blog post is based solely on our experiences with the product.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COMwebsite sailors community.