Fridge Freezer Frustrations in Fabulous Whangarei

Sun 19 Jul 2015 04:56
35:50.21S 174:28.054E

New Zealand Tree Fern: a cross section through the trunk and a new branch uncurling.

Yes, we’re still here! Poor Jon came out a month ago, and expecting to be heading off to the tropics had brought only shorts, t-shirts and sandals. It’s been 2 degrees in the mornings with frost on the deck. It took a while but eventually an emergency trip into town for jeans was called for. Actually, within a week or so we were ready to go: the boat was back in the water, we’d moved out of the house we were renting, we were provisioned and the car was ready to sell. Jon had got stuck in with a will, wielding angle grinders, electric saws and buffing machines as well becoming proficient at vacuum packing. But then we had to wait for a weather window. There can be some pretty nasty depressions that come curling in from the Tasman and we kept getting our hopes up for a departure date but then another depression would start building with never long enough in between to let us say “Stuff it! We’ll not get away for a week so lets give up and go exploring!”.

Frost on deck in the Town Basin, Whangarei, winter comes to ‘the winter-less North’.

Whangarei has been a wonderful place to get our boat work done, beautiful location, amazingly friendly people and every tradesman and supplier you could hope for. The service is fantastic. Just imagine a B&Q only, in this B&Q there are available people in every aisle, who know the stock inside out, and are more than happy to find things for you. If they can’t find something they’ll even tell you where in town you can get it and give you directions. I know it’s hard to imagine but here, in Mitre 10, it actually happened.

We were making so many modifications that we decided to move out whilst the boat was on the hard and were lucky enough to have a perfect house recommended to us belonging to the lovely Ian and Carolyn Goodison. They both come from sailing families so completely understand the need to spread canvas work all over the sitting room and ropes all over the porch. My hope was a place we could come back to after a day working on the boat, take a shower, put our clothes in a washing machine and take something out of a fridge to cook for supper. All luxuries for us! The Goodison’s house far out stripped that and we made friends for life into the bargain. I particularly want to thank them for the many delicious meals they cooked for us - in fact we are still eating their food as they packed us off with frozen home made ‘passage’ meals and baskets of citrus from their wonderful garden. 

Ocean Beach, Whangarei heads

You may be wondering what all this boat work was that we’ve been doing all this time, what on earth could have taken so long? Well, I’ve seen too many blogs filled with lists of all the jobs people have done to bore you with that but I will tell you about a few highlights (hence the blog title - remember ‘wh’ if pronounced ‘f’ here in NZ) and I’ll no doubt mention things in passing, because it’s such a delight living with all the improvements. For example, I’m writing this at the saloon table whilst the latest front passes over, 30 knot winds with driving rain just now, and NOT A DROP is falling on my computer or the saloon table. I keep looking up in wonder at our new crystal clear, not crazed at all, water tight hatches, each one representing about a day of work in removing the old one, cleaning out all the old seals and sealant, bedding in the new one and replacing the seals and o-rings.

One main project has been to get a new fridge and freezer. No big deal, you may think, just pop down to Comet (Harvey Norman here) and buy some new ones, plug ‘em in and off you go! We wish… It doesn’t work like that on a boat, for lots of reasons, one being that we need a 24 volt system, another being that there are no convenient rectangular spaces to put white goods in. Every space is curved, both up and down and fore and aft.

The electrical part of the old fridge/freezer worked fine: 24v compressors, cooled by a sea water pump. Well, actually the pump has struggled quite a bit due to barnacles growing in the pipes (they can’t get past the filters but their larvae can, they then grow happily in their new pipe home that has lovely fresh sea water pumped through it all the time) but the rest has been fine. The problem has been with the actual carcasses of the fridge and freezer themselves. 25 years ago they were made of plywood, with a resin seal, surrounded by insulation. Over time, due to leaking pilot house windows (now replaced and water tight) and some deck leaks (not yet all fixed…), the insulation had become sodden and so failed to insulate at all. In tropical climes the freezer had no hope of freezing unless something was up tight against the evaporator plate. In addition the water had soaked the plywood, the resin seal had cracked and I started to see a correlation with heavy rain and an inch of brown liquid appearing in the bottom of the fridge. The rain was leaking through the pilot house window, seeping down through the woodwork, through the 25 yr old insulation, through the plywood and collecting in the base of the fridge. I could only put waterproof things in the bottom of the fridge. Not nice. 

So we took the old ones out, trying not to damage all the good oak woodwork in the galley as we did it. It took crowbars, hammers, chisels and much mess but in the end we had... two gaping holes. We then took loads of measurements and Phil put on his engineer's hat and got out his scale rule to draw up the designs for new stainless steel liners. We entered into long discussions with Richard from ChillTech, advising on general design and insulation; Simon from Absolute Stainless, who would create the stainless steel liners and a local joiner who was to make vapour sealed boxes to enclose the whole lot (no more wet insulation or condensation) and help us rebuild the galley when the installation was done. Modifications were made and final plans drawn up before we got married and set off for a month in the UK. 

Peek-a-boo through the old fridge and where the freezer used to be.

Then came the delays. Simon was going to make both liners whilst we were away but we’d made an error in the fridge design and we couldn’t measure up to send a correction whilst we were in the UK so that aspect came to a halt. We returned to find the joiner had done nothing towards making the containing boxes and no longer wanted to do the work, totally letting us down. Luckily we were recommended the excellent Geoff Locke, a man full of energy and ingenuity, who stepped into the breach to save the reputation of Whangarei’s skilled tradesmen. He started work on mock-ups for the boxes straight away and calculated how much insulation we’d need, ordering it through Richard at ChillTech. We were confident of having it all come together in a couple of weeks… this was not to be. 

First of all there was a miscommunication over the insulation, and after two weeks waiting it was found it hadn’t even been ordered! Then we had to wait for another two weeks for it to be manufactured and to finally arrive. Then, due to a change in the design, we had trouble with how the steel liners were going to line up with openings in the cabinet fronts. We decided to bridge the gap with painted fibreglass, so everything got passed on to Fraser Foote of NCB, Northland Contract Boatbuilding company. Now, the decision to fibreglass was taken on a Thursday, the work was passed on on to Fraser on the Friday, and the Monday was a bank holiday so the work wasn’t started till Tuesday, due to be finished Friday. This would lose us another week but it needed to be done. We were expecting it to cost us maybe £200, but late on the Friday we got a call to say it wasn’t ready, might be ready Tuesday or Wednesday the next week and would cost us £600. We weren’t exactly pleased, as you can imagine and went round to discus things Monday morning. They had us over a barrel, we needed the job done, time was ticking by with boatyard fees building up, as well as house rental, so we agreed eventually to £400 if they would get the job done as soon as possible. On the Wednesday we got an email with an invoice for £600 saying we couldn’t retrieve our fridge or freezer until we’d paid £600 in full - they were being held to ransom! Again there was nothing we could do but pay up and grind our teeth - especially when we saw the state of the work. Gaps in the paintwork and the paint finish full of dust, all gritty to the touch. To add insult to injury the fibreglassing was wrong - two inches too short on one side.

Now I don’t like to bad mouth people on-line, just praise those we’re pleased with, and there are so many folk who’ve done excellent work for us here in Whangarei, but I would say to anyone thinking of employing Fraser Foote of NCB to think again! On a more positive note, Steve of Kinsman Engineering was superb and Glenn of Immaculate Marine Maintenance was an absolute godsend. Glenn took over the fibre glassing for us and repaired the faulty work Fraser had done - Glenn even refused to take payment saying he was ashamed of the work a fellow tradesman had done and that we’d payed too much for the job already!

New fridge waiting for installation, stainless steel liner, insulation then sealed wooden box.

Finally all the pieces had come together and so Geoff and Phil managed the last stage - installation. The completed boxes were too big to come through the companionway so had to be brought piecemeal and constructed in situ. With less than a few millimetres clearance this was no mean feat and we all had to think on our feet to come up with modifications to enable the seemingly impossible to happen. I should mention here that Geoff is about 6’3” so can’t actually stand up straight anywhere on board Lochmarin, he spent much of his time bent in an s-shape inside the engine room. The galley and saloon looked like it had snowed sawdust but finally it was done. All that needed doing was installing the old evaporator plates and hooking them up to the compressor. Geoff had spent the last week telling us to dry fit them into the boxes whilst the fibreglassing was being done, we’d declined on the basis that it would be easy and we didn’t want to risk kinking the pipes when putting them in and out of the boxes. It wasn’t easy, Geoff had been right. The freezer cabinet was a slightly different shape to the old one so we had to re-bend the evaporator plate - without kinking it as that would block the flow of the refrigerant. We used a rolling pin as a former and carefully carefully bent the plate - and kinked it. So we had to order a new one from Richard and got him to bend and install it! Another delay.

Installers at work!

So that is how it took two and a half months to get a new fridge and freezer and why we are trying to leave so late in the season. The only good thing about the delays is that we keep on provisioning. Just another quick pop to the supermarket to see if there’s something we’ve forgotten… surely we need a few more jars of chutney or bags of dried milk.  The boat is getting lower and lower in the water and every nook and cranny is filled to overflowing, but at least we have a fridge and freezer that are working fantastically to fill this time!