This may seem odd to you, dear reader, to see that I am really dedicating a whole article to an amenity that shouldn´t be one. A fridge on a boat is something most sailors consider a matter of course and with most boats it is one indeed. Not with small boats and so it is also not something GEKKO can offer. “But Seacape has a fridge on their options list for the First 27 SE!”, some might say, and that is absolutely right. The First 27 SE comes with an insulated cooling box which is situated right under the first step of the entryway stairs. A very convenient place: You just fold up the stair and underneath a 40 litres ice box is happy to welcome drinks and food. As it is insulated, it will keep its temperature for quite some time.
This ice box can be fitted with a compressor, here you have your fridge. The compressor is an option, adding some 1.000 Euros to the budget. I wanted this option as I agree that cooling provisions is a must have on a sailboat, no matter which size, but I when ticking the boxes I was apparently a bit too excited, the mouse shifted a line and so my boat didn´t come with a fridge but with a cockpit shower … well. No comment.
A summer bargain: Dometic TropiCool 21
Anyways, here we are: The big summer sailing trip of 2022 is about to start. Temperatures are fairly high and sun still shining like we´d live in an advertising catalogue of some travel agency. As I was driving to the supermarkets and buying all the tasty food, fresh fruit and beverages, it time and again struck my mind that I couldn´t keep this stuff cool. F****k cockpit shower! So, in an act of spontaneity, I parked in front of a chandlery. If they, by chance, offer a good price on one of these camping coolers, I´d get one.
Well, here we are: Meet my new fridge. The Dometic TropiCool TCX 21 seemed just about right. With some 230 Euros the price was okay and I took it. It may seem odd to most of you who are used to having a fridge on your boats, and I must confess, when selling our bigger units I as well do not even thing about it, but adding a fridge to GEKKO is a real improvement of her #microcruising capabilities, indeed! So, let´s have this new gadget wired up and cooled down!
Utilizing the new fridge for my boat
Generally, cooling boxes and fridges work in two ways: Compressor technology or thermos-electric cooling. A compressor does what your big fridge at home does. A gaseous agent – the coolant – is compressed and turned into a fluid. It tends to getting back to its natural state, so it needs to heat up again. This tendency is utilized – the fluid is pumped into a heat exchanger, which is located inside of the fridge. There you will have stored all the food and beverages you need to cool down. So, the fluid takes on that “heat” and happily goes back to natural gaseous state, the stuff inside the fridge is cool. Now, compressor fridges are way more expensive. Dometic offers compressor boxes, starting at 530 Euros for the 21 litre boxes. So here you have the price difference.
My TCX 21 works a different way, thermo-electric. The box is connected to the power system by either ordinary 230 Volts (in America 110 Volts) plug or 12 V cigarette plug to the battery system. I chose 230 V as my boat is still moored and on shore power. Drainage on battery will be 73 kWh/a per year, which makes it according to European Standards a class E rated energy efficiency device. Well, all cooling devices are not very energy efficient, cooling and heating up is per-se not very energy-efficient.
So, how does the thermos-electric cooling (and heating, by the way) work? Way back in the year 1834 a clever Frenchman named Monsieur Jean Charles Athanase Peltier discovered that different conducting metals generate heat or cold when a direct current passes. So, he figured, this effect could be used (and intensified by fans and venting air) to cool down or heat up stuff. In my Dometic box such a so-called “Peltier device” is mounted. It can cool down food and beverages to 27 degrees below the surrounding temperature. Now, with 20 degrees air temperature inside GEKKO, that´s a maximum of minus 7 degrees Celsius. Great! Pro side: Peltier-devices work always, any angle, even upside down. Compressor fridges won´t. Downside: Relatively high energy consumption and noise generated (which I´d say isn´t that loud at all).
Let´s be cool: This much goes inside
Doemtic is market leader in cool boxes, compressor or thermo-electric. I already did own one, a Coolfreeze compressor box back in the old days when I still owned OLIVIA, my first boat, where I took out the 40 years old compressor fridge and wanted to supply a brand new box by this brand. I liked the quality and haptics of it, so why look for something else when the good is at hand?
For my boat the 36 or 21 litre versions seemed just about to be right. But standing in front of the very 36 litre-model I figured it was too big to fit into GEKKO. You know that I do not have the two aft berths in my First 27 SE equipped with cushions and used as berth, but fitted a #microcuising galley to port side and stocked all safety- and navigation-related equipment to starbord side. So where to put a big cooling box? I absolutely do not want to take away any more space from the saloon. So, not the 36 litres. Besides, this one clocks in at 550 Euros …
The 21 litres seemed just about to be right. And it fits perfectly. I put the box – transitional – to starboard side on one of the benches, hoping to being able to fit it to a better place over time. Now it was time to put in some chilled cargo. And I can tell, 21 litres is many things! Four big steaks (for the BBQ), two packs of Bratwurst, Prosciutto and Salami, A bug Camembert, a sixpack Coke, some Red Bull (for night sailing), butter, a big baloney and milk. That´s a lot! It took the box no two hours to cool down sufficiently.
A huge step forward for the #microcruiser
Now, you might understand why I am so happy: A fridge makes live aboard so much easier. Cold drinks in the summer heat are a blessing, being able to keeping your food cool widens the range of food you can take with you and raises quality of nutrition. I will cool down to the max while in harbor, choosing – depending on the mileage – to keep it cool via battery when not plugged to the shore. When my solar system eventually starts working completely, electric energy won´t be a problem for GEKKO and so the energy efficiency “E” will be turned into an “A”: My boat will be a self-contained system energy-wise.
For now I am happy. We expect some hot days during the coming weeks and I absolutely look forward to being able to grab a cold Coke when underway or – much better – an ice-cold beer upon arriving. Such a great leap forward and definitely a part you should have on your equipment list when going for a small daysailer or micro-cruiser. Now, speaking of micro cruising amenities … let´s take a shower in the back.
You might as well read those articles:
Shopping time: A new galley for my (old) boat
Galley ballet: Offshore cooking
Micro Cruising at its best: Why a small boat?