Although I've not yet gotten the blog caught up with our physical location (I think I left you somewhere in the USVI National Park on St. John) we've been back in the British Virgin Islands for over a week. We left St. John with the intent of staying here in the BVI's until we leave for St. Martin on the first weather window after the new year.
That was until our freezer up and died on us.
This was two days before Christmas, but I didn't mention it in my Christmas post because well, it didn't fit the mood to be whining about more broken stuff. But the freezer, which had acted up once before, finally seems to have packed it in for good. The plus side is it was only half full, but it still holds a lot of food. Fortunately for us we've been rafted to our friends on Troubadour and they had some space for some of our stuff. But we've had a lot of bacon and sausage for breakfast the past week!
Evenstar has a separate refrigerator and freezer. Both are large, cavernous and deep and hold a surprising amount of food. Of course finding it and getting it out can be somewhat problematic since Kathy isn't tall enough to reach the bottom of the fridge without climbing into it or standing on a step stool. Picture your fridge as a deep, dark, hole without any shelves in it. Sure it holds a lot, but you need to pack it right...and by the way anything that touches the sides will freeze solid. Fortunately Will and I are here to help though Will's not thrilled at being designated as the official "Cleaner of Fridge & Freezer Bottoms" because he's the tallest one on the boat with the longest arms.
The entire system is a hassle. It is "water cooled", as opposed to "air cooled" or "keel cooled". Which means that we have a pump that runs seawater through the compressors to cool off the refrigerant that runs the system. The Air & Keel cooled people do not have this pump, and they do not circulate sea water (an intrinsically hostile substance filled with persistent living creatures) through their boat as a result. When we were weekend cruising and vacationing on the boat it wasn't such a problem. Any critters such as barnacles, mussels, tunicates, sponges, algae or any other of the Legion of Gross Little Sea Critters that tried to colonize our refrigeration system generally failed. They need circulating , fresh seawater to live, and when you turn the system off on Sunday night they get five whole days to dry out and die (Bwaah Haa Haa Haaaa! he says, while dry washing his hands and relishing their dessicatory demise...) before the system comes back on the next weekend. But when you live on board you pretty much have the fridge and freezer running all the time which provides a nice, comfortable, and safe home for these things to proliferate in your water hoses and sea strainers.
It is a never ending battle to remember to clear these things out, and more than once we've had the system get clogged and had to resort to techniques such as back washing all the lines with fresh water (to my shouts of "Lyse you little b***ards!"), flushing the system with muriatic acid to dissolve their shells out, pushing various long, flexible pokey things through the hoses to clear them, and the ever popular Reaching Into the Disgusting Filter to fetch out the critters. When the lines get restricted (which takes a while) you can start to tell because the water pump gets louder and louder the less water it gets until it starts buzzing like 400 pound bumblebee under the floor boards, drowning out conversations and movie dialogue.
|A similar, but considerably less rusty|
and beat up, compressor to ours
My theory is that the constant over working that this older unit has had to endure because of the restricted flow of seawater (to keep the compressor cool, and give it someplace to get rid of the heat generated by compressing the gas into a liquid. This is such a great post for bio & chem geeks!) has finally worn the thing out.
Also, did I mention the refrigerator is wonky too? We've got two problems going on there - a slow leak in the refrigerant lines somewhere, and an electrical..."issue" in the system. The refrigerant leak is a nuisance, the system just starts getting less and less cold, until I have to put some more 143a refrigerant in every couple of months. The electrical issue is more vexing, because there is some sort of voltage drop in the system that makes the fridge controller think the batteries are less charged than they really are. There is a "safety feature" to keep you from running your batteries down where the system will shut off if it detects low battery voltage, so the refrigerator doesn't always re-start when it has cycled off with the thermostat since it thinks the batteries are too discharged. Turning on the generator for literally a minute increases the battery voltage enough to fake it out and make it start, but this is problematic if it happens in the middle of the night and the refrigerator sits for hours not running.
The net result of this is that we have to abort our current stay in the BVI's and head back to St. Thomas to get the systems serviced. The freezer may be due for a replacement of many of it's key parts; we may perform a similar service on the refrigerator too because we're just sick of dealing with it. It gets very expensive when food gets spoiled because the systems aren't reliable. The refrigerator is the same age as a the freezer and our confidence in it is pretty low at this point.
Which is unfortunate because this makes a mess of our plans for the next couple of weeks. There are still some spots in the BVI's we've not been to with the kids (or been to at all, ever) that I want to see, but we don't know how that is going to work out. We've only got a bit more time left here - many islands in the Caribbean beckon and we don't want to miss them either while we fritter away the time waiting for parts and service.
But today we're leaving Jost Van Dyke earlier than we've planned, taking the Christmas tree down before we wanted too, and our leaving our friends sooner than we've hoped. I'd be thrilled to be clear of this problem by the New Year, but am not optimistic. On the plus side though, when we ARE clear of this problem, even if it is by an expensive complete replacement of both systems, at least we will finally get to stop struggling with the system and just focus on killing the crispy critters trying to colonize it.
At least the mechanical end of it we won't have to worry about, I'm still going to need to lower Kathy in by the ankles if she needs to get to the bottom of the fridge.