Saturday, May 31, 2014


We are tied up at the New Port Cove marina in Riviera Beach, Florida (map), a short distance from Lake Worth inlet.  I am recovering this morning from another kitchen appliance project that kicked my butt, one which necessitated this marina stay.

We had a nice two-day cruise here, if a bit different than we had planned.  Rather than push all the way to Lake Worth in one day, I had picked out a couple of nice anchorages around the Delray Beach area, and, even though we already had the tender loaded and all secured, we spent a very leisurely morning in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday, taking advantage of fast free WiFi, weighing anchor around noon for what was planned to be a four hour or so cruise.

As we approached our first bridge opening, just a mile or two from our anchorage, at the Sunrise Boulevard bridge, we heard a tug behind us with a 130' yacht in tow calling the bridge.  Bridges, like Sunrise, that open only on a schedule, are nevertheless required to open on demand for commercial tugs towing or pushing anything.  So even though we had a few minutes till the scheduled opening, we got to take advantage of the demand opening for the tug.  I did call him on the radio to see if he needed us to clear the channel or if we should just precede him; as he was doing just 3.5 knots to our 6, he suggested we just go ahead.

That gave us plenty of time to make the next bridge, Oakland Park, which also opens on a schedule.  Before the scheduled opening, the tug called to say he'd need an opening, too, and the bridge tender wanted to delay the opening to accommodate both of us in one shot.  From his perspective, that would delay us by a few minutes, but it would cause us to miss the next bridge, and we'd be waiting a half hour.  When the bridge did not open on schedule, I had to call the tender and get a bit insistent; he does not really have the discretion to impede navigation at a scheduled opening except in an emergency (for example, an emergency vehicle needing to cross the bridge).

Fortunately he opened up just in time for us to make the schedule for the following bridge, and he was able to hold it for the tug as well, who by this time was fairly close behind us.  That was the last we saw of the tug and it's 130' charge, Private Lives, for the rest of the day's cruise.  We knew they would pass us at some point, because they were headed to Rybovich Shipyards in Palm Beach.

Just like the old joke about "uphill, both ways," we managed to have the current against us nearly the whole day, and making some of the closely-timed bridge openings was a mad scramble, having me wick it up to 1800-2000 RPM (when not in the numerous no-wake zones) to avoid missing an opening.  Unfortunately, the net effect of a late start, head current, and bridge timing put us in the Delray area at a low tide of negative 0.3'.  At that level, neither of the anchorages I had looked at was accessible to us.  (On the plus side, we squeaked through a couple of bridges that would otherwise have had to open for us.)

We ended up pushing on all the way to the first usable anchorage, in Lake Worth just south of the Southern Boulevard bridge (map).  That made it nearly a seven hour cruise and we dropped the hook just before 7pm.  We ended up having leftovers on deck over a cold beer, but on the plus side it was one of the most peaceful anchorages we've experienced in a long time.  Traffic was minimal, but I did enjoy seeing the tug Jr pulling Private Lives past us around 11:30pm.  Behind the yacht was another small tug facing backwards -- the "brakes" if you will.

On a lark I tuned the VHF, which we normally leave on at all times on channel 16 (the official Hailing and Distress channel), to channel 9, which is used to communicate with bridge tenders here in Florida.  I heard Jr call the Southern Boulevard Bridge for an opening, and the tender asked if he was a tug with a barge.  When the tug responded that, no, he was towing a yacht, the bridge tender told him he'd have to wait until the next scheduled opening, at midnight (this was about 11:45) unless he was "declaring an emergency with the Coast Guard."

The tug skipper was understandably annoyed -- the rules are quite clear that bridges must open for "tugs with tows," irrespective of what is "in tow."  After reminding the tender that he was a commercial tug in tow, the tender finally relented, backpedaling by saying "that's what I meant by a barge."  The entire lash-up did have to slow considerably for the still-closed bridge, with the end result that the bridge had to stay open a lot longer while they got back up to speed.  Considering there was almost no auto traffic at that hour anyway, I'm not sure why the tender got all testy in the first place.  Palm Beach County is the absolute worst when it comes to drawbridges.

We had our own little miscue with this same bridge yesterday morning.  I wanted to arrive here at slack, around 10am.  Given that the Royal Park bridge, about two miles north of Southern Boulevard, only opens once an hour, at quarter past, we decided to try for an 8:30 opening at Southern to make the 9:15 at Royal Park, which would put us here right around 10.  So we were up early and weighed anchor by 8:15 for the five minute run to the bridge.

When I checked the schedules for all these bridges on Active Captain, which is normally up to date with the Local Notices to Mariners, I saw that Southern was restricted from 4pm to 6pm, but saw no morning restriction.  Nevertheless, when I called the bridge to ask for an 8:30 opening, they informed me that they were restricted and the next opening would be at 9:30.  Oops.  We pulled off the channel and dropped the hook to wait it out over a second cup of coffee.  The restriction was right there in my copy of the Notices, but it somehow did not make it to Active Captain (I have since submitted an update).  Lesson learned -- check the Notices anyway.

We made it here by 11am without further incident, in more current than I'd have liked but not enough to keep me from backing Vector into the slip, with a bit of line help from a dockhand.  We were secured alongside and shut down by 11:30, and after I paid the $94 for our slip and power, I called the buyer of our NovaKool refrigerator and Heart inverter, a description of which I posted here on the blog a couple of weeks ago.

In case you missed it, the reason for selling the refrigerator, as fond as I am of the NovaKool products, is that it was just too small for full-time living on a cruising boat.  At 6.8 cubic feet capacity, it was ten percent smaller than the NovaKool we had aboard Odyssey, yet the logistics of getting groceries fairly often in the bus were far simpler than aboard Vector.  As tough as it has been here in the U.S., this problem will only get worse when we finally get offshore, where fresh grocery options are much fewer and further between.

The previous owner had solved this problem by putting a very nice chest fridge on the aft deck, but we wanted to reclaim that space for a table and chairs.  We sold the chest unit, getting mere pennies on the dollar for it, and, in hindsight, we probably should have just relocated it to the boat deck.  Recently, we've been noodling on how to add some capacity, and we've looked at, for example, the slightly larger NovaKool 8 cubic foot unit, which would fit in more or less the same space with just some slight modifications of the opening.  They are spendy, with the AC/DC model in that size setting us back nearly $2,000.

I was strolling through Lowe's in Stuart a couple of months ago when I happened to notice an "apartment size" fridge with 10.3 cubic foot capacity that looked like it might just fit our cabinet with a bit of aggressive modification (think Sawzall).  Better yet, it was under $400.  People who have attended my popular seminars at bus conversion rallies know that I am not normally a fan of household refrigerators for this application, but the combination of 50% more capacity, frost-free operation, and a ridiculously low price gave me pause to reconsider.

This would really not have been an option with our old modified sine wave (MSW) inverter.  Refrigerators need true sine wave power; without it, the both the fridge and the inverter waste additional power (as heat), and it's hard on the compressor, shortening its lifespan.  But when we upgraded the inverter to a 24-volt model (so we could get a bigger engine alternator), we changed to true sine wave output, which will have no trouble powering a household fridge.

The price we will pay is an energy penalty of about 10% when the fridge is running from the batteries, plus whatever power the "frost free" cycle uses.  I might get around eventually to installing a switch to turn off the auto-defrost when we are on batteries, letting it run instead only when the generator (or shore power) is running.  Frankly, we're looking forward to it; living at anchor (where we don't run the air conditioning) in the Florida humidity, the NovaKool was frosting up in just a week or two, and the efficiency and effectiveness drop off precipitously if you don't keep after it.  Since we did not manually defrost nearly as much as we should have, it's possible the auto defrost might even be more efficient.

In any case, I knew we could not even buy such a new fridge until we had a way to dispose of the old one.  Since it was in great condition and working well, within the limitations of its design, I wanted to pass it along to another boater or RVer and get at least a few bucks for it; the equivalent model, new, today sells for around $1,400.  In addition to the "for sale" write-up I did here on the blog, I also posted it on the trawler mailing list and the bus conversion forum.

Last week I got a call from a buyer in Palm Beach who was interested in not only the fridge, but also the Heart inverter we had removed during the upgrade.  We were going right past Palm Beach anyway, so we made plans to stop there and complete the transaction.  The buyer had a van to make the pickup, and I agreed to pay for dockage if the buyer would help me pick up the replacement fridge at the nearby Lowe's.

This dock was the least expensive option that was not too far off our route, and while not, by any means, a resort marina, the docks are adequate, and the staff was pleasant and helpful. They also have a loading zone convenient for making the exchange.  I asked the buyer to come by at 1:30, giving me enough time to get the NovaKool out of the cabinet.

The NovaKool, out of the cabinet and sitting on the galley floor.

We stuffed all the frozen food into our standalone ice maker, and packed what few fresh items we had left into a cooler.  Between undoing the hardwired electrical connections, removing the add-on insulation we had added, and getting a support jack underneath the unit, it took the two of us about a half hour to dismount the old unit and get it on the galley floor.  They buyer brought two strapping young men along who carted it to the back deck where four of us lifted it over the rail and onto the dock.  After they loaded the fridge and inverter into the van we made a round trip to Lowe's to pick up the new one, and the young men helped me get it on the aft deck before they left.

The old fridge on the way to its new home.

By  this time it was past 3pm, and there we were, with a fridge on the back deck.  We moved it into the salon, in place of my chair, and briefly considered the option of just strapping it to the wall somehow for the passage to Stuart.  I figured that by the time we came up with a way to safely strap it in place, I could mostly have the rough opening enlarged in the cabinet enough to at least slide the fridge into place, making securing it for travel much easier.  And so I set to work tearing into the joinery with the oscillating saw and the reciprocating saw.

The cabinet after removal.  I had to remove the face on the right of the opening all the way to the wall (easy), and cut another half inch from the left side (much harder), as well as remove the bottom panel all the way to the floor.  The space underneath the old fridge was formerly inaccessible and wasted anyway.

Unfortunately, given the tight quarters, I could not get either the circular saw or the jig saw to work here, which is too bad, as both of those tools have edge guides that would let me cut a straight line.  Neither was there room to affix a jig or guide.  So I ended up cutting the left edge with the recip saw freehand, using a line scribed on painter's tape.  The recip saw is more of a demolition tool than a cabinetry tool, but I got a somewhat finer cut by using a fine-tooth metal blade rather than the typical wood blade.  Still, the line was a bit wavy and rough, and the fridge did not slide right in on the first try.

By then we were getting hungry, and even though I had deliberately backed the boat in port-side-to so that we could unload a scooter, we ended up walking to the closest joint for dinner rather than taking the time to do that.  It was a mostly-delivery pizza joint, Romana's, but they have four tables and the food was surprisingly good.  They let us bring our own bottle of wine, and we toasted the new fridge.

I'm not sure a half bottle of wine did any wonders for my ability to re-saw a straight line, but after another hour or so of chipping away at the high spots with the oscillating tool we were finally able to slide the unit into the cabinet, and call it good enough.  Tomorrow in Stuart I will add some height to the subfloor (the galley floor ends just inside the cabinet, and the 1/2" drop-off has the fridge leaning backwards quite a bit), secure the back of the unit to the floor so it can't roll back out, and reverse the door hinges.  While we are in town we will shop around for some trim to surround the cabinet opening for a more finished look.

New fridge mostly in position.  Leveling the floor behind it will bring the doors flush with the divider on the right that separates it from the wet bar.  Some trim along the left side and across the top will finish the job.  Sorry about the poor lighting -- it was very bright today when Louise snapped this photo.

We are already loving the new fridge -- half again as much capacity as the old one makes a huge difference.  I'm glad to have found a good home for the old one, and I am equally happy to have the old inverter out of the engine room, where it has been taking up space for months snug in the shipping box from the new unit (I was expecting to have to ship it someplace).

Today we will shove off at high slack for the six hour cruise to Stuart, where we will anchor close by our old digs so we can visit with our friends for the next week.  It would be nice to have a dock where we can offload a scooter for the week, but it's cheaper to rent a car if we need it than pay for dockage.  We'll tie the dinghy up to our friends' boat when we need to get ashore.


  1. FYI, on some household appliance they will strap the Ground (Green) wire to the Common (White) wire together and the appliance cabinet. That will cause problems to steel boats.

    1. Tim, thanks for the heads-up. FWIW, that arrangement hasn't been legal in the US for two decades. You'd certainly never see it on a kitchen appliance, because such an appliance would instantly trip a GFCI, and most kitchen outlets are GFCI (a dedicated fridge outlet is a notable exemption, though). They'd be inundated with support calls.

      Also, as it happens, we have an isolation transformer and the AC ground and neutrals are bonded on board to each other and the hull, so ground return current is not really a problem for us. We do periodically meter the returns to make sure we do not have any ground faults.


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