1/28/2013 – Fridge Fix

The weather here in Santa Rosalía has just been gorgeous the past few days.  Finally warm enough to wear shorts again.  Might be short-lived but we’re hoping not.  Anyway, not a whole lot to write about so I thought I’d do an entry about something I’d meant to blog about before we left San Carlos.  So here goes.

As you remember, we left Siempre Sabado on the hard at Marina Seca San Carlos while we went back up to Oregon, Florida and Arizona last summer.  We were gone basically from mid-July to mid-September and, although it was still oppressively hot when we got back, we probably missed the worst of it.  Siempre Sabado wasn’t so lucky.

We’d heard all kinds of warnings about all the horrible things that can befall an unattended boat on the hard in a Mexican summer.  Lots of these warnings were about insect infestations.  We guarded against those by closing the portholes, screening the vents, and closing and plugging the thru-hulls.  And, we were rewarded by returning to a bug-free boat.

Other warnings revolved around the horrors that heat could perpetrate on an unsuspecting boat.  Canned good would explode in the lockers, the water in the batteries would evaporate leaving them dry and good for nothing except the junkpile, all the water in the head evaporates leaving the rubber to dry out and crack, etc.  Well, we certainly weren’t about to remove all the canned goods from the boat and we were between heads so that wasn’t a worry.  The batteries worried me a little.  We wanted to leave the bilge pump connected as we’d also heard horror stories of boats on the hard filling with water following a tropical storm because their bilge pumps had been shut off.  We also still had the old ventilation fan from our composting toilet in the head and kind of wanted to leave it running.  So, I topped off the batteries, removed one solar panel and set the other one in its vertical position to reduce its efficiency so we could keep the batteries charged but were less likely to over-charge them.

For the most part, we returned to find things just fine.  The canned goods were still intact and the batteries just needed a small top-up of water.  However, we did run into one thing we’d never heard about and aren’t sure how we would have guarded against it if we had.  We left the fridge empty and open so we wouldn’t return to some sort of creepy fungus, although it was probably way too hot and dry for anything like that.  Still, it seemed like the right thing to do.

We had stowed virtually everything that had been on deck down below, either in the main salon or in the engine compartment, so it took awhile to pull everything out.  But when we got to the fridge, we ran into a surprise.  The lids wouldn’t fit.  Our fridge is a top-loader like on most sailboats.  The lids are square pieces of wood with a large square of insulation bonded to their bottoms.  My first thought was that the humidity, which was definitely higher than we’d experienced in Baja, had swelled the wood.  Well, no matter right now as we had lots of work to do in the yard and wouldn’t be using the fridge until we were back in the water.  So, this problem took a backseat.  I hoped that by the time we put the fridge back in service the whole problem would have worked itself out.  I always have that hope when things go wrong and nothing ever works its way out.  But I keep hoping anyway.

Well, by the time we got ready to start using the fridge again, the lids did seem to fit a little better (Oh, how I can lie to myself!).  Sure, they didn’t quite seat and were a real pain to remove once they’d wedged themselves in place, but still, it’d all work out, right?

After watching Lulu almost pull her arms out of their sockets trying to yank the lids off time and again, I finally admitted that I was going to have to intervene.  No cosmic boatwright was going to fix this for me.  However, by now I knew what had caused the problem.

The Westsail 28 was built as a fiberglass hull.  Then a fiberglass liner was dropped into the hull.  This liner basically defined how the interior was laid out.  It contained the engine compartment interior, the quarter berth, the settee (including the fridge under the forward settee seat), the head, and some of the v-berth.  But let’s just concentrate on the settee for now.  The forward settee seat houses the refrigerator (originally an icebox).

top of the reefer

top of the reefer

The area outside the wooden lids is filled with insulation.  It had to have been stuffed up inside the cavities before the liner was installed as there are no top openings to the insulation areas.  Not a terrible setup although it makes it hard to add or change insulation as the old stuff wears out and materials with higher R-value to thickness ratios come on the market.  Presumably, the insulation around the fridge is the same insulation that was originally installed back in 1976.  No dig deal as it seems to work pretty darn well.  However, during the hot summer haulout in San Carlos, whatever moisture that may have been trapped in the insulation must have gotten hot enough to expand.  Either that or the insulation itself expanded.  Whatever happened, the result was that the cavity walls bowed out on both sides of the insulation. This reduced the interior dimensions of the box enough that the formerly tight-fitting lid no longer fit at all.  Hard to imagine the force that was exerted.  Check out this wood joint on the seat rim:

These joints used to be tight.

These joints used to be tight.

Those gaps between the flat pieces and the corner used to be invisible.

So, how to fix this?  Well, at first Lulu tried sanding down the inside walls of the fridge.  This was partially successful but it soon became apparent that she’d have to sand right through the fiberglass to get the opening large enough so the lids fit correctly again.  OK, what else?  This was one of those problems that woke me up at night and then kept me awake as I tried to wrestle out a solution.  If we couldn’t enlarge the opening, it looked like we’d have to reduce the size of the part of the lid (the ‘plug’) that sat down inside the fridge box.

Fiberglass isn’t nice to cutting tools like saw blades.  I fretted about how I was going to remove the old plug and then, what I was going to replace it with.  Maybe my Fein multi-tool would work to neatly remove the plug but it would take a heavy toll on my stash of saw blades.  Grinder?  Hand saw?  Toss and turn, toss and turn.  And, what would I replace the plug with?  Obviously I’d need another plug of some kind.  Make one out of plywood and fill it with foam?  Fiberglass it?  Would it look like a piece of crap when I was done?  More tossing and turning.

When morning finally came and I decided to tear into things, come what may, I was pleasantly surprised, after removing the gasket material, to find that the fiberglass, foam-filled plug was actually screwed to the lid.  I wouldn’t have to saw it off after all.  Oh happy day!

This plug is just screwed on to the bottom of the wooden lid.

This plug is just screwed on to the bottom of the wooden lid.  The screws are around the rim right under the white weather stripping.

OK, so now I knew how to remove the old plug but what to do about a new one.  I decided to take a bus trip to Guaymas to wander around Home Depot and see what was available for insulation.  At first what I found was not too encouraging.  Big 4 x 8 sheets of some kind of pink foam or smaller sheets of styrofoam (NO! NO STYROFOAM!!!).  There was also aerosol foam insulation and that might have been the way I had to go if I hadn’t gone walked through the flooring section.  That’s where I found packages of multi-colored, interlocking foam rubber tiles (about 12″ square) to be used as padded temporary flooring wherever kids are playing.  I bought a package figuring there had to be a way to make this stuff work.

Back at the boat, I unscrewed the old plugs from the fridge lids.  Of course, turns out they weren’t just screwed on.  They were also attached to both the lid and the insulation with some kind of tenacious glue.  But I finally got the plugs off although not in one piece.

Here I've started putting on the new weather stripping as a guide to where the plug will go.

Here I’ve started putting on the new weather stripping as a guide to where the plug will go.

None of the rubber tiles were large enough to use by them selves so I had to do some creative cutting to get 8 full pieces (4 per lid).  The interlocking feature was nice.  The tiles are 1/2″ thick so I stacked four up to equal the 2″ thickness of the old plug.  Not sure what the R-value of the foam tiles is but they sure make a colorful reefer lid.

A little easy trimming with a sharp knife and the new plugs fit perfectly.

A little easy trimming with a sharp knife and the new plugs fit perfectly.

The new lids seem to insulate at least as well as the old ones judging by an unscientific tracking of the length and frequency of the ‘run’ cycles (in other words, the compressor isn’t running every time that I happen to glance at the control panel).  The rubber tiles give enough so that the lids fit snugly but still don’t require super strength to open.

This tile stuff isn’t cheap, although I don’t remember for sure what it cost.  But, I could see it being used to line storage compartments to protect the hull from the contents bouncing around.  Hmmmm…. might have to get some more next time we’re somewhere that has a Home Depot.  According to our current “plans”, that should be sometime around April.



About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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7 Responses to 1/28/2013 – Fridge Fix

  1. vic says:

    seems like one crisis after another, good thing your so talented : >

    • sryoder says:

      Oh, it’s not really as bad as all that. Just seems that way since I report on just about everything that happens. If we were living back up in the Silverton Hills and blogging about it, it would likely sound much the same: woke up to a flat tire this morning, furnace quit working, pipes froze last night, car won’t start, etc. On the difficulty scale, this was roughly the equivalent of fixing a broken window.


  2. s/v Eolian says:

    Steve –

    The insulation is probably foam-in-place polyurethane foam. Sadly, this is not closed-cell foam, and over the years it picks up water (it’s condensation), as you pointed out. Other than the problems with the expansion, this water ruins the insulating value of the foam. You really should pull it all out and replace it – your refrigeration unit will thank you…

    s/v Eolian

    • sryoder says:

      That’s a good idea but the only way I can see to access the insulation is to cut big holes in the liner somewhere which would then have to be fixed somehow. Maybe later.

  3. wgward says:

    Have you found any cracking in the deck from the hot Mexican sun?

    • sryoder says:

      Nope, haven’t found any cracking. Of course, our deck is covered in teak so who knows what it might look like underneath?

      • wgward says:

        Reason I asked was when I purchased a sailboat in Mexico @9 years ago, a boat that had been allegedly in Mexico for 10 years, the decks had a lot of hairline cracks in her. Yes, and since it had been on the hard, and previous owner inattention, there had been some flooding in the bilge because of an inoperative bilge pump. Other than that, she was okay…after an extensive refurbishing!!

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