Beware the Orange Juice

When Eric designed Corroboree in the mid-1980s, he included an engine-driven refrigeration system, standard for the time. We never used it, mainly because it required running the engine an hour a day to keep food cold. The droning aside, obtaining clean fuel in foreign ports is not guaranteed and we didn’t want to waste our diesel. We put the empty compartment to good use storing extra drinking water, also a valuable commodity.

Most of the time we didn’t need refrigeration anyway. For vegetarians like us, there are plenty of fresh fruits and veggies that will last a week or more without refrigeration, and from Florida to Panama our legs were short, day sails or 3-4 days at most. When we reached a port we simply treated the nearest supermarket as our “icebox,” strolling over each afternoon to pick up whatever we fancied for dinner. We bought bagged ice for our cooler chest when desired, and after purchasing an ice-cube maker in Puerto Rico we could generate a daily helping of ice onboard, thanks to energy from our solar panels and later, in addition, our wind generator.

But then we moved ashore in Darwin to housesit, and man oh man, that icy cold orange juice from the refrigerator was heavenly! In the near 100-degree heat, we gulped it down as if it were the nectar of the gods, and we didn’t shun the luxurious air conditioning either. It dawned on us that with 7-8 months in port and no other major boat projects on the horizon we would have time to install electrical refrigeration. And it did take time—three months, in fact—to research refrigeration systems, determine what would fit the available space, locate a qualified technician, get an estimate, order the components, slot a work period—which got interrupted by the Christmas holiday—remove the old system, and install and test the new one. Eric plunged into the task and also spent a sweaty week doing the auxiliary work of installing the power wires and ventilation for the compressor and designing, ordering and installing stainless steel support rails and two plastic food trays. My hero!

Refrigeration techies at work. The white panels are the new evaporator plates. They go in the compartment to the right of the stove.
Refrigeration plates installed on either side of the compartment. Removable plastic trays slide along the stainless steel rails, creating upper and lower compartments to hold water bottles and/or food.
Installing the compressor below the berth in the aft cabin
The compressor

Ta-dah! Or as another cruiser wryly observed, “You’ve finally entered the 21st century.” We get this a lot, because even after all the upgrades we’ve made to Corroboree en route, we are still somewhat simply equipped for a cruising sailboat. Here are some other “luxuries” we go without:

Washing machine/dryer – We are always happy to encounter laundromats along our route. Meanwhile, our wardrobes are rudimentary and there is no one to object if we wear the same grubby T-shirts and shorts day after day at sea or when working on the boat. I can easily wash a few items in a bucket with a squirt of detergent and peg them on the lifelines to dry. As a child, I loved helping my mom hang up clothes in our backyard and continued the activity with our kids when they were little. Now some communities and even marinas have outlawed drying clothes on a line as “tacky.” Really? What can possibly be offensive about the sight of clean clothes dancing on an eco-friendly clothesline in a breeze? Horrors!

Filling the “washing machinewith rainwater that pooled on the bimini
Hanging laundry on Duprass in Portugal, 1977. No one complained that clean clothes looked tacky.

Dishwasher – Like our clothes, our meals on Corroboree are uncomplicated and don’t require many pots or dishes. The galley’s double sink has hand pumps that draw fresh water from our tanks and, when in a clean anchorage, salt water from beneath our hull. Washing the dishes in salt water and rinsing them in fresh helps conserve our water supply. Even in our housesits, we don’t use the dishwashers.

Microwave, toaster – I’d love to have both these appliances on Corroboree, but there’s no place to install a microwave and I need the galley’s limited counter space for meal preparation more than I need a toaster. Though it’s slightly less convenient, I can toast bread beneath the grill in the oven.

Air conditioning – Most cruising boats our size don’t have A/C, and as with refrigeration, for most of the voyage we haven’t needed it. Living on the water, we usually have a breeze, if not a stiff wind, blowing through the boat via hatches and portholes. Three cabin fans and two sunshades over the deck also cut the heat. On blistering days in our previous long-term Australian ports, we headed to the library with our computers or did lazy laps in the Olympic-sized community pools. Knowing that Darwin would be the hottest by far, we signed up to housesit right away. We heartily thank the three owners who have now sheltered us. Two of the houses also had delicious swimming pools.

Hot running water – Corroboree did have a hot water tank and a shower wand in the head but we removed both before we set sail. The tank was badly corroded and we could put the space to better use to store vital supplies. The shower wand was impractical as it “showered” the entire head. Instead we acquired a 5-gallon solar shower. Fill the plastic bag with fresh water, heat it in the sun, hang the bag from the aft railing, sit on the transom and open the nozzle. Standing in the warm rain in our bathing suits also works. On the boat in Darwin between housesits, we douse our fully clothed selves several times a day using the hose on the marina dock. It’s quicker than a trip to the marina’s restroom showers, and the damp clothes keep us cool longer, protecting us from heatstroke. And we do have an extremely space-saving, energy-efficient source of hot running water. It’s called a tea kettle, the old-fashioned kind you bring to the boil on the stove.

Our high-tech solar shower

All this is not to say that Eric and I will continue our primitive lifestyle when our voyage is over. Meanwhile, I’m also more than grateful for the amazing navigation and communication technology that has assisted us to sail this far. It is my firm belief that the pinnacle of this technology is the chips and bits and gizmos that enable me to talk, laugh and blow kisses to my incredibly handsome, clever, funny, adorable grandson from halfway around the world. But our experience does illustrate how little it really takes to meet the basic human requirements for food, shelter and comfort. So, much as I’m currently enjoying it, I don’t intend to be permanently seduced by the orange juice. I know what matters to me, you know what matters to you, and I bet the top item on both our lists isn’t a refrigerator.

Our son Dane and his wife Gray created a photo book for Anders of his family members so he can become familiar with the faces of those he doesn’t get to see in person. That’s me he’s contemplating.