Chilling Mysteries

By Tom Neale, 12/30/2004


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There are two problems with cockroaches in ice cubes. The first is that you usually don’t see them until you tip up your glass for that last drop of drink. The second is that sometimes they’re still alive. At least, the solution to both of these problems is easy. Spit quick.

This was a frequently occurring dilemma in my early cruising days when we had to get our ice fresh from the fish house. The closest thing to a convenience store in those days was the truck that brought milk and bread to your door. The one marina in town had ice only in the winter time. At the fish house, you had a choice. It had to do with whether the man scooped it out of the fresh ice bin or out of the empty fish boxes. The first came with a bit less taste and smell. It also had a slightly lower rate of infestation. It was better for you, I guess, but it was more expensive and pretty boring stuff. But neither of these were as good as a big solid block, which is still the best deal, even today.

Block ice is best, for at least two reasons. First, it’ll keep a lot longer. Secondly, it comes with its own built in purity checker. You can peer inside the ice, checking for things that are not supposed to be there, like cockroaches, or maybe frozen wooly mammoths. If you can’t peer inside, you generally figure that this is ice that you aren’t going to put in your drink.

A major problem today with buying ice has to do with whether you can get the block ice at all, and, when you do, whether it’s really block ice or actually crushed ice that’s been packed and disguised to look like block ice. I much prefer solid block ice. With the real stuff, you’re more likely to get a whole cockroach. It’s important to get a whole cockroach instead of the cockroach parts you get with crushed/repacked ice. With a whole cockroach, you only have to spit once.

Cooling Cures

1. If you're stuck with compressors which use the "Old Stuff" such as R12, don't dismay. Repairs aren't necessarily as costly as some say. Refrigeration mechanics must be trained and licensed to use R 12, and the cost of the product is now prohibitive because of its adverse effect on the ozone layer. While an old R12 unit will mean you're going to be paying more, perhaps you won't need to pay as much as some mechanics will suggest. There are so called "drop in" products which will work on the old compressors and which aren't very expensive. For example, R409A will normally work in the compressors which used R12. Taking out the old and putting in the new still requires the equipment and the knowledge, but you don't have to pay the fortune for R12, nor do you necessarily have to get a new compressor or completely purge the old.

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But there is a drawback to solid blocks and whole cockroaches. As alluded to earlier, it’s a little known scientific fact (or maybe more scientists know about it than I give them credit for) that dead cockroaches frozen in ice are sometimes not dead at all. It makes you stop to think, when you consider what kind of drink you’re putting the ice into. A slowly reviving cockroach in your glass is bad enough. The problem accelerates considerably with a slowly reviving cockroach, who’s getting drunker by the minute---and who’s also cold, and who’s also trying to climb out to a warm place, which, he hopes, is also moist and dark. But hey, it’s still a lot better than a live wooly mammoth.

Fortunately, cruising has come a long way since the good old days and many of us don’t have to worry about buying ice. On my boat I’ve got a little Raritan ice maker that keeps turning it out all day and all night long. The ice is as clean as the water in my tank, which is usually at least a step up from the water at the fish market, and I can filter it between the tank and the ice maker.

I’ve also got a refrigeration system with cold plates full of “eutectic” solution and both an engine driven and AC driven compressor. I can’t believe how good it’s all gotten--until this stuff breaks. It usually does in the Bahamas, or at least in the summer. When your refrigeration breaks you’ve got to go back to buying ice or deal with the problem. The first step toward dealing with the solution has to do with attitude.

There are two ways to look at busted refrigeration. If you’re anchored out near some boat whose refrigeration just broke, you look at this with a smile, because, if you play your cards right, the poor guy’s going to come over in his dinghy and say something like, “look, my food is all going bad, how’d you like a few fillet mignons?” The other way to look at it is when it happens to you. That’s when you get in your tender and come up to the other guy and say, “Hey mon, that cow I ordered from Venezuela just came in on the mail boat…I can make you a good deal on some great steaks.”

Rather than go back to buying ice and looking for surprises, I usually try to find a way or a person to fix the problem. I like to hang out in the islands, where you’d think refrigeration mechanics would be difficult to find. But it’s often quite easy. Every village has refrigeration, but none of them have Home Depots where you can just go out and buy a new one. People in the islands like ice just as much as the rest of us…probably more. So lots of people can actually fix what breaks. And if there’s not someone on the island who can fix refrigeration, there’s usually someone in the anchorage. “Making Money While Cruising” is a famous non sequitur, but not if you know how to fix refrigeration and air conditioning.

In the states there are plenty of “refrigeration experts” in the phone book, but not all of them can fix what they say they can fix. Some do a lot of guessing about it, some seem to work magic. I’ve dealt with guys like Lee Kelm (Lee’s Marine A/C & Refrigeration in Davie, Florida) who has seemed to be able to stand in front of my compressors, condensers and all that other stuff, see inside them, and know exactly what will make them behave. Talking to him on the phone about a refrigeration problem is like talking to a guy who’s right there on the boat with you and looking at the same thing you’re looking at—except he knows what he’s looking at. I’ve also called guys who can say only one thing: “You need another compressor.” Then they have to “order it” and then they have to “fit it in my schedule to come back and install it,” and all the time you’re out buying ice again. But boating is getting better even in this department. There are things even I can do when broken refrigeration equipment threatens to send me back to the days of spitting out cockroaches. Check out the tips for a few practical suggestions.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale