Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fridge Optimizer: Boat refrigeration enters the 21st century

Immediately after we repowered last Spring I decided to replace Compadre's refrigeration system.  The compressor unit was installed in the engine room, and because the ambient temperature was often in the 80s, the unit was very inefficient.  Just before installing the new unit in a better spot, I came across a review for a new product called the Fridge Optimizer.  It's manufactured by a small company here in Seattle with the unlikely name of Stainless Lobster.  I don't make a habit of doing product reviews, and I have no financial interest in Stainless Lobster, but this gizmo is one of the best things I've ever put on a boat, so I feel compelled to spread the word.

Fridge Optimizer control head.

Simply put, the Fridge Optimizer manages all aspects of your on-board refrigeration system.  It is a thermostat, compressor speed controller, humidity sensor, automatic defroster, energy-usage monitor, and more.  All in a nifty little control unit with a multi-screen display.  It plugs into the terminal strip on the front of your existing compressor unit, with no modifications or special tools.  Very elegant, and it works like a charm.  It sells for $250 and is worth every penny.

Gone are the days of fiddling with that mysterious little round refrigerator-control knob: The one with arrow that just says "colder"; the one where you make an adjustment because things aren't quite cold enough, only to find 12 hours later that the milk is frozen.  Now if I want my milk to be 37 degrees, I set the temp at 37 degrees.  Pretty clever, eh?

And gone are the times when you would open the fridge door and find the evaporator unit (cold plate) caked with ice ("I know that salmon is in there somewhere, but all I see is ice").  The fridge now defrosts itself.  Really!

How many times have you wondered how many amp-hours your refrigerator was using -- "Honey, it seems like this darned thing is running constantly.  Is it supposed to do that?  Why is the house battery so low."  The Fridge Optimizer tracks the energy used by the refrigerator over a 24-hour period, and shows the percentage of time the compressor is running -- on a nifty graph.  OK, my science background is showing through here, but this is actually very useful. For what it's worth, our new system runs roughly 37% of the time, and is a whole lot more efficient than our old system, which DID run most of the time.  

The statistics:  All you need to know!

The thermostat is mounted on a small fan, which helps even out the temperature in your refrigerator and aids in the defrost cycle. The thermostat-fan unit is connected to the compressor unit by a small cable (included), and the control head is connected to the compressor by an ethernet cable (also included).  The whole thing is very well thought out and easy to install.

So that's my pitch.  Check out the Fridge Optimizer at the  Stainless Lobster website.   Accept no more frozen milk.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Like having a new boat

"Well, how are those new engines?" they all ask.  I can only answer, "Fantastic!  It's like having a new boat."  We now refer to the era of the Chrysler Crown gasoline engines as the "Old" Compadre.

It's hard to overstate what a difference the new engines have made.  Gone are the days of wondering if we'll get underway as planned.  Many a time we had arrived at the boat with plans to cruise for the day or longer, sometimes accompanied by friends and relatives, only to discover that one engine wouldn't run.  Sometimes it was a fuel pump, sometimes a carburetor, sometimes a bad spark coil.  Sometimes one or both of the old engines would refuse to start after running several hours -- like when attempting to leave the fuel dock at Pender Harbour, B.C.  No more.  We just push the button and the engines start.

I had lost track of the number of times we'd been cruising along and suddenly lost one of the old engines.  We didn't actually lose them, of course -- they simply stopped running.  Once in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, once in Elliot Bay on the way to the Bell Street Classic Yacht Rendezvous , once in Agate Pass on the way home from Port Townsend, once in the Strait of Georgia on our way to Desolation Sound, once only a mile from our berth in Bremerton.  Or how about under the railroad bridge waiting for the Ballard Locks to open?  Twice!  Compadre's log book reads like a tow-truck driver's memoir.  Fortunately we had twin engines, and we were always able to continue to our destination on one.  Or we just stopped where we were and fixed whatever was wrong.  Sometimes it was a fuel pump, sometimes a bad spark coil, sometimes faulty electronic ignition.  No more (I hope!).  With the new engines we cruised to Princess Luisa Inlet in B.C. in May, to the San Juan Islands in July, and to South Sound last week.  No problems.  You push the button and they run -- until you shut them down.  Wonderful.

It may sound odd, but Cindy and I didn't realize what a burden those old engines had been until they were gone.  It was as if a little black cloud had followed us on all our outings, just waiting to darken our day.  Now we can be more confident and spontaneous, exploring places we would have hesitated to go in the past for fear an engine would stall or die.  What a difference.

Have I mentioned faster and cheaper?  Yes, it's true.  We now cruise at over 9 knots, compared with 8 knots with the old engines.  And we do it using less fuel.  Top speed is an astounding 13.5 knots, but at that speed the only thing larger than our fuel consumption is our wake.  We won't be doing that very much, but it's nice to know we have some power in reserve when we need it.

By way of introduction to the "New" Compadre, I thought it would be nice to show some photos of our recent travels.  We've had a great summer so far, and look forward to more cruising before things slow down in the fall.

"New" Compadre in Jervis Inlet, B.C., on the way to Princess Louisa Inlet

Docked at Princess Louisa.  Chatterbox falls in background
Chatterbox falls from the dinghy.  Boat dock is right of the falls.  Feeling insignificant?
Headed back toward Malibu Rapids, inside Princess Louisa Inlet
On a buoy at McDonald Island, Princess Louisa Inlet

Early morning at anchor.

Stern-tied at Wallace Island, Gulf Islands, B.C.

Late afternoon, anchored at Clam Bay, Gulf Islands, B.C.

Sunset at anchor, Clam Bay.