Refrigeration Fizzle

Oct 13, 2019| 0 Comment

Sunday, October 13th – A charter sailboat pulled into the bay the other day. Avante, at that time, had picked up a current or was just being wayward, for she was swinging opposite the 3 other boats at anchor. They motored by us to ask where our anchor was located so that they did not accidentally place their anchor on top of ours. We realized then that they were American which is an uncommon occurrence here in New Caledonia. First, this country is not normally on the average US citizen’s bucket list of places to go. Most people have never even heard of it. (The First Mate included, until we started sailing out here.) Second, choosing to charter a sailboat to cruise here equally puts them on a very small list of US people, and third, one has to really want to come here for it is a really, really long flight as The First Mate has mentioned. Curious, we dinghy over and invite them for Sundowners. Kathy and Rick are delighted. They come from the Boston area and are at the beginning of a lengthy trip that will also include New Zealand. Kathy decided that they needed a place to get over jet lag, and why not charter a sailboat in New Caledonia for 2 weeks to do just that? We had a great time getting to know our new friends. When they arrive in New Zealand, they plan to tour both islands and will be renting a camper van which is a great way to tour that country. We gave them our phone number and email address, for if they have time when they get to the Bay of Islands, it would be fun to get together again for an evening out on the town!

After they leave, The Captain notes that the temperature on the freezer is alarmingly well above what it should be. The unit is running but obviously not cooling.  A quick check reveals that there is no seawater is not being pumped through the system. No pump, no water, no cooling! Even though this is not exactly a convenient time to be working in the dark on the refrigeration system which is located near the bottom of the starboard aft lazarette, we cannot let the refrigerator and freezer continue to warm. We have seen this problem before, and The Captain feels that he should be able to fix it. A halt to dinner preparation is called for several hours while he troubleshoots. Unfortunately, to gain access to the unit in the bowels of the lazertte requires lifting out the heavy life raft, a spare anchor with chain, several bulky trash bags that were yet to be brought ashore, and other miscellaneous objects. Only then is The Captain able to wedge himself down into the hole. The strainer is the first thing to be checked, as it is the most accessible. It appears to be the culprit, for it is fully clogged with debris. Rinsed out and replaced, the system starts up, gurgling out water and cooling the refrigerator. Hours of work were not needed! We celebrate that the problem is solved.

Monday, October 14th – What a miserable last night! Heavy winds swept in from the south. Avante rocked and rolled all night as she pulled out on her anchor chain. Temperatures have dropped, too, and with the churned up waters, a cold, wet journey across splashing waves to buy our daily baguette is nixed. We are in for several days of this according to the weather forecast. After a few hours of swirling through the waves on Avante, The First Mate is feeling woozy. Seasick at anchor? How miserable!

The Captain is having his own miseries, for the refrigeration system stopped working again. Again, no seawater is being pumped through. He goes through the same upheaval as last night to access the system and again checks the strainer first.  A little debris, but nothing to stop the pump from working.  He discovers that the electric motor on the pump is not running. Of course, this pump is located where it is difficult to reach and remove. The problem for The Captain is that there is no place to put his legs. If he were a contortionist, they could be wrapped around his neck and then he could be wedged down into the spot, but not being so double-jointed makes this job truly painful. He needs shorter legs or longer arms. At times like this when the pain and frustration quotients are running high, The First Mate knows to lay low, though the grunts and groans coming out of the lazarette are distressing to hear. The swaying, rocking boat isn’t helping him either.

The offending pump is removed and taken up on deck where it is opened up, cleaned out, reassembled and tested. It starts up right away. However, after it is painfully reinstalled, it will not work. Reverting to a timeless fix for all cantankerous inanimate objects, The Captain gives it a whack with a hammer. It hums to life pumping out water. Clearly, we can’t spend a week on passage having to whack this difficult-to-access pump every time the refrigeration needs to be cooled down. The Captain decides to replace this old pump with a spare one that we have in inventory.  New pump in place. We’re back in business. Another new pump will be ordered upon our return to the States.

Tuesday, October 15th – It looks like a good weather window for our 7-day passage to New Zealand is opening up at the end of the week. With a 2-day return trip to Nouméa ahead of us, we set forth early in the morning. We could retrace our steps, but The First Mate would really like to visit one of the small sand-encircled islands of the South Lagoon. Though it will require navigating around some reefs, The Captain agrees and sets his sights on Ilot Ua. The winds have lessened from the other night, though they are still blowing at a ch.illy 15 knots. She is hoping that conditions will improve enough by the time we arrive so we can launch the dinghy for a hike around the island.


 We arrive at Ilot Ua in the afternoon with unabated wind and chill. Uninspired in such conditions to set forth on a short 45-minute hike around the island, we enjoy the view and set about doing things needful for making a passage. 


 After dinner, disaster strikes again! The new refrigerator pump is not running, and once again, it is in the dark and on a boat that is rocking around at anchor. Out comes all the paraphernalia from the lazarette and down wedges The Captain to unscrew the new pump. In the dark under the glare of his headlamp, the new pump is opened up. Maybe a wire has come loose.


 Not so, the new pump is full of water! A gasket failed? He knows not, but something allowed seawater to enter the electric motor and trash it. The old pump is dug out of storage and reinstalled. A hammer tap gets it working, but we can’t cross the ocean to New Zealand giving it hammer taps several times a day. He decides that, upon our return to Nouméa tomorrow, he will tour the marine shops to see if a suitable pump can be found. 


The First Mate assures him that we can manage just fine for a week or so at sea without refrigeration. We’ll pack the freezer with bags of ice and even put a bag in the refrigerator. She’ll have our dinner meals frozen ahead. The freezer will stay remarkably cool for quite a while, and with the outside temperatures also cool, that will slow down the warming up of the refrigeration. Even if the meals do thaw near the end of the passage, they will stay cool enough to be safe to eat. “We’ll manage,” she says.  “Don’t worry. You can pretend you are English and drink warm beer.”

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