Hail to All Things Cool
Sailors find that newly installed refrigeration might just be the best thing since sliced bread.
Sailors by nature are romantics encrusted with barnacles. Ask them about a tropical sunset and they’ll remember the anchor dragging after dark. Admire their varnished teak and they’ll wear you raw with multiple applications of 120-grit sandpaper.
But it wasn’t until I asked Cruising World readers about retrofitting refrigerators in old boats that I understood how perverse pride can be.
I’d hoped for paeans to cold beer. What I got, instead, were prologues of hopeless searches for blocks of ice and of dreadful, dripping bags of cubes disappearing in the dinghy as it raced toward cocktail hour.
“There was always the question of the food getting—I want to say soggy, kind of unpleasant,” recalled Tony Fastaia, who sails Paper Moon.
To hear them tell it, cruising B.R.—Before Refrigeration—was like a caveman camping: “It wasn’t that much fun,” wrote Vic Jewhurst of Elk Grove, California, who sails along the west coast of Mexico on Charisma, his 1978 Traveler 32. “We used to invite people over for cocktails with the caveat, ‘You bring the ice’.”
Bryn and Suzanne Fick, cruising 6,000 miles around the eastern United States, saw people on boats without refrigeration “eating cans of stuff and peanut-butter sandwiches. And that’s no way to live.”
That was me not so long ago. In my first season of living aboard my 35-foot Allied Seabreeze yawl, Ranger, in Key West, Florida, I was invited to a local’s “boat,” one whose bottom growth had roots long enough to entangle anchors, where I watched him eat warm tuna from a can.
I swore I’d never do that—until the day that I popped open an 80 F can of Coors to wash down 80 F black beans. Like a troglodyte, I cruised that way for
When I decided to cruise in the Med, I purchased, along with new sails and autopilots, an engine-driven Technautics fridge system. It sat in a locker for six years, a victim of priorities and fears of a bloody-knuckle installation. Before the pleasure, many readers assured me, there should be pain.
“I could tell you the story of 87 sweated joints, or the online refrigeration course I took,” wrote John Douglass, who put in a Glacier Bay DC-plate system in Aventura, his 1976 Valiant 40.
Caryl Sprinzel sent a picture of her 6-foot-3-inch husband, John, squeezing himself into a cockpit locker of their Mirage 28, Oregano, in brutal Turkish heat and gamely smiling while calling for more insulation to fill 8-inch cavities around the old icebox.
“He kept sending me off by bicycle for cans of foam—17 of them,” said Caryl, a well-spoken professor. By the end, she was cursing like a sailor.
Virginia Cross e-mailed me from San Diego that she and her mate went through 5 gallons of Liquid Nails—that went “where no other glue has gone before: fingers, hair, and clothing”—to install insulation on Mandy, their 1982 Bristol Channel Cutter. “It took us six months of weekends from conception to cold beer.”
I heard from 30 boat owners. Half had installed 12-volt condenser/evaporator systems, with Adler Barbour the favorite. Another half a dozen chose 12-volt holding-plate systems. Interestingly, only four mentioned cost—the four who’d installed inexpensive alternatives: self-contained R.V. units, one of them running on propane.
“We plugged it in, and it was going,” Brian Thom said breezily, recalling carrying an electric R.V. box aboard Nomad, his Westsail 42.
Leo Lichtveld, a Dutch-born engineer who couldn’t afford a marine unit while paying off his Seabreeze, Quintessence, spent less than $400 at Costco for a Coleman Stirling Power Cooler. He cut a hole in the old icebox and slid it in. “The whole installation took about an hour. What more could you ask for?”
More power, that’s what. When they finally threw the switch, sailors with new refrigerators on old boats witnessed a glutton rising from their once-benign iceboxes. “Feed me!” it hummed.
“So far, it works good. But it loves batteries,” wrote Earl Lamar from Sharpes, Florida, of his Technautics Cold Blue 12-volt system—the third refrigeration system on Lamar’s homebuilt boat, My Bonnie. Two were homemade from used and discarded parts.
“Overkill, maybe?” Lamar wrote. To power the three, he installed a 70-amp alternator, a wind generator, and solar panels—and he told me that he’ll be adding another solar panel “soon.”
Vic Jewhurst, who added an Adler Barbour 12-volt system, joked that along the Mexican coasts, cruisers infected with cold comfort come into a marina, “hook up the electrical cord, then tie up the boat.”
John MacEvoy, a retired electrical engineer, is proud of dual Cold Blue systems installed on his 1981 Stevens Custom 47—one for a freezer, one for a fridge. (See “Stevens Custom 47: Safe and Secure,” March 2008.) A 650 amp-hour battery bank draws power from solar panels, a wind generator, a hefty alternator, and, of course, a shore umbilical cord. A sailor with a taste for comfort, MacEvoy also installed a microwave, a digital 19-inch television, and a blender.
On Manatee, a 1974 Irwin 30 based in Tampa Bay, Florida, Harvey and Joan Press bought a 1,000-watt portable gasoline generator. “It was quiet, and I’d watch the weather on TV while the batteries charged,” wrote Harvey.