“Uh oh”, I said aloud. “What?” Brian asked, suspicious already. “I think the fridge is kaput.” Ice trays filled with jiggly water are not a good sign. Funny thing is I had just mused to myself not two days ago how I would probably have to defrost the fridge again soon. Frost had been building up with the exponentially warmer and humid San Carlos weather. Defrost complete.
That evening we bought a cheap $5 Styrofoam cooler. I had just purchased specialty cheeses, hummus and some expensive sausage at Walmart not two days ago. SO I had about a dozen things of cheese: 3 gouda, 2 edam, 2 cheddar blocks, 1 herbed goat, Havarti slices, shredded parmesan (1 open, 1 not), shredded cheddar (1 open, one not). Oh, and don’t forget the cream cheese. Do you see a cheeseoholic's dilemma? I probably have $70 worth of cheese! (When you get a chance to go to Walmart, you gotta stock up.)
The cooler ice lasted for 2 days in this heat, inside an air conditioned boat. Luckily a Tecate store sells ice literally a 5 minute walk up the street, so it’s easy to get more. But that’s going to get old real quick. Plus there was no room for any of the rest of the relish, mustard, mayo, jam, vegetables, eggs, cold drinks, etc. What now? We’re going to be eating out… a lot.
We knew this would happen. It was only a matter of when. This was, of course, the one major appliance/gear we did NOT replace before we left for Mexico. If you’d read our earlier blog, in April our fridge suddenly started to pull more amps than normal. After much research, we came to the conclusion that the compressor was about to go. It’s the 20-yr old original unit; so kudos to Adler-Barbour, the fridge manufacturer, for making a product that lasted so long.
In April, we had packed the bottom half of the fridge with insulation just to keep it from working so hard in the increasing summer heat. We were just hoping if we babied it, it would last a while longer… a year, 6 months? We considered replacing it before it died. We went 'round and 'round. Logistically it would not work well. In the end, we decided to wait ‘til it died. Well, here we are.
Over the course of a few days, Brian went through the motions of trying to figure out if somehow, miraculously, we could just replace an internal part. He went through the system, testing wires, looking for shorts, burnt fuses and leaking coolant; he even replaced the control module (last year we had purchased a $300 spare since those seem to go bad). No such luck. In the end, he determined it was the compressor. Kaput.
New fridge or NO fridge?
Some cruisers have no refrigeration. I know, to the landlubber that sounds odd... but for some, the aggravation, cost and high electrical consumption makes it unworkable or undesirable. There are ways around it – like wrapping cheese differently, most of your condiments don’t need refrigeration, etc. And I actually considered NOT buying one. Briefly. For about one day. I researched other boat bloggers who exist just fine without one. I even experimented on parmesan cheese to see how long it would keep before it started to mold – about a week. Hard cheese and wax-sealed cheeses should be ok, but once you open them you have to use them quickly. And I can’t run to the store every other day to pick up more. Additional problems, besides my cheese issues, is that I can’t have lunchmeat or sausages/salamis, many vegetables go bad way faster when not refrigerated, milk for cereal would always be warm (yuck), and you can’t keep leftovers easily. We could turn the fridge into an ice chest, but then there’s the problem of getting ice every 4 days. In the end, for me personally, it’s just not worth it to NOT have a fridge.
8 Days Later
It’s now the 21st. I threw out all the sausages; just can’t keep it cold enough and don't want to risk getting sick. Styrofoam sucks. But I don’t want to spend the money for a good cooler that I’ll just throw out once we fix the fridge. I now keep only cheese and milk in the cooler. We go to the Tecate store for ice every 2 days. PB&J for lunch? Spaghetti for dinner again? We eat out a lot… as predicted.
Thank God for Google...wait, did I say that? Uggh.
Meanwhile, we’ve been researching new fridge units. Cost and fit were our two main concerns.
We considered the Mexicolder fridge system, but after measuring, it was just a bit too big. Plus they only install it in Mazatlan, and we could not get the boat down there until December. We’d have to go without a fridge until then and we just weren’t willing to do that.
We also considered the Technautics Cool Blue; this would have been the easiest to obtain in San Diego. We purchased our watermaker from the same company and trusted the product. But it was more expensive. And we’d have to build a box. See below.
Thought hard about the Frigoboat keel cooler unit as well, but the keel cooler placement and the compressor have to be within a certain distance from one another. For our installation we couldn’t make that happen. Besides, we would have to drill another hole in the boat….below the waterline. We have too many of those already.
After much hemming and hawing and measuring and internet researching… and more measuring, followed by more hee-hawing…I think we have 90% decided on a Sea Frost fridge. Pacific Seacraft has been using them in their new models. Their cold plate fits perfectly in the refrigerator space. No fuss, no muss. Plus it will allow us to more easily add air-ducting.
One big problem with our current fridge setup is that Indigo’s compressor unit, which needs airflow because it gets hot when running, is in the worst place ever… in the sealed cockpit locker. Why would PSC put an appliance that needs airflow in a sealed locker? Because on a boat this size you just don’t have a lot of options regarding space. So in order to install the new fridge the right way, we need to add ducting… so that cooler air can be sucked from inside the cabin into the hot cockpit locker to cool down the compressor. Sea Frost made installing this ducting easier as it was already incorporated into the product: its compressor is sealed in its own box that comes with a duct port and hose. We would be able to route the ducting from the cabin and plug it directly into the compressor box. Easy peasy. Bottom line is: It fits. Costs less. No building a box ourselves. Sea Frost wins.
The question becomes: how do we get it? Do we ship it here and risk it getting stolen? We’ve heard UPS/Fed Ex are fine… Then we’d hear how someone got parts stolen using those same highly reputed companies. We don’t know what to believe. Maybe we ship it to a hotel in Tucson and go get it via bus (8hrs away)? Or do we just ship it to dad’s and bus/fly to Atlanta, pick it up, drive back in our truck and keep the truck down here as transportation until we go back to Michigan in October. Hmmm, we thought. Is it worth it to do all that to have a truck for essentially 2 months? Might be… if we have to go to Home Depot several times during the fridge installation. Plus we might enjoy the area more if we could travel around on our own terms. We’ve been pondering the decision for days. More hemming and hawing.
June 23rd. Sea Frost it is! After a couple calls to the factory to verify measurements, we placed the order. Total cost: $1500. Not the cheapest, but half as much as the other two units we were considering. The cost we saved by going with Sea Frost will be made up for in gas money and plane tickets picking it up and getting it back. Crazy as it sounds, mid-July we plan on bussing to Phoenix, flying to Atlanta, picking it up, and driving our truck back down here. Yup, we’re nuts. To be continued when we get back and install the thing…