Heating Water on Pitcairn Island

The 10 most important things one should learn and do whilst on Pitcairn

Hot Water
Trading
Fishing
Pota
Fly a Kite
Unna a Coconut
Down the God
Swimming
Nola Reynolds
Miz T

Heating water on Pitcairn - The Copper

Pitcairners heat their water by fire. The arrangement which holds and heats the water is called the 'Copper'.
Darrin and Brandon show us the difference between hot or not water!

In the early days a copper bowl was held above ground by rocks, cement or in Reynolds case a steel drum, under which a fire is lit to heat the water. The hot water was then bucketed to where it was needed.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Success
Reynold shows Darrin and Brandon an early Pitcairn 'Copper'.

Around the early eighties, spent 44 gallon drums were put to good use. Laid on their side they were hard plumbed into home water systems. From a header tank, piping ran into the bottom of the drum. From the top of the drum piping ran into the house to hot water taps. The workings of the drum are very simple, cold water sinks, hot water rises.
The pro's,
- very, very cheap to build and easy to install
- hot water could be piped directly into the home.
The con's,
- The steel drums needed to be replaced every 1-2 years due to internal rusting and discolouration of water.
- Drums couldn't be put under extreme pressure, although a simple piece of pipe extending from the drum to above the header tank acted like a relief valve, minimising risk.
The arrangement couldn't be close to a house

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Fire Away
The old steel drum copper plumbing and heating configuration

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Old Copper Configuration
A well used steel copper drum


Just a few years on the first home introduced the stainless steel drum, traded for on a passing ship. There were several advantages of stainless,
- it can last for years (20+), consequently the drum could be cemented inside a firebox.
- the firebox could be located very close, if not inside an annex to the home.
- the cement firebox could hold the heat for several days.
- it was far safer than anything previously used.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Modern Copper Configuration
The modern Copper's configuration

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The Modern Copper
The 'modern' Pitcairn copper.

Ok - now for the hard bit. Of course you need a good supply of wood to heat your copper. An average home will need approximately 1 cubic metre of wood per month. Fortunately on Pitcairn we have, in abundance, a tree we call Roseapple. This provides the island with an unlimited supply.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The Rose Apple Tree
Abundant on Pitcairn, the Roseapple
is the primary source of firewood

I like to cut around 4-5 months of wood each time. Anymore and it tends to soften and become too dry before using it i.e. you burn a lot more heating your water. Any less wood and cutting fire wood becomes an onerous task. Allow 5-6 days to fell, chop, split and stack firewood for 5 months.
Fortunately this time, Darrin and Brandon were here to lend a hand.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Chopping Firewood
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Splitting Firewood
Brandon spent days splitting and stacking logs for drying

Roseapple stumps can be up to 30-40-60cm in diameter, so you do need to work these bigger logs. Brandon spent many days splitting these down into managable pieces.

Now the fun bit...

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Splitting Kindling
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Splitting Kindling
Darrin cuts kindling from logs to get the initial fire going

Darrin prepares a handfull of kindling by further splitting wood into thin pieces.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Lighting the Copper
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Lighting the Copper
Stacking at this point is crucial

Careful alignment and positining of wood is crucial at this point. A major collapse, could put the small flames out... and having to start again.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Fire Away
Once going it's simply a matter of stoking with bigger logs

Once going it's simply a matter of stoking with bigger pieces. In summer one good stoke will provide you with boiling water for up to 2 days. In winter it pays to give it a second stoke, just to ensure that second days hot water.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Success
Voila...hot water!

Lastly, it's cheers all round. Darrin's successfully given Big Flower two more days of hot boiling water.