In the Name of Cold Beer

It’s a luxury having 12v refrigeration aboard Priorities. Even after many days of cruising, anchored far from marinas, I still have cold milk, meats, and other perishables for meals aboard. I also don’t need to worry about finding ice, fitting the ice, or draining the resultant water. Best of all, once Priorities is safely tucked into her anchorage for the night, the crew and I can enjoy a cold beer after a hot day of being on the water.

However, after several days of cruising, all the food, beer, milk jugs, lunch meat, and other contents became scattered about the bottom of the fridge. Everything was hard to find, and alternated between freezing solid (try that with milk) or getting too warm (try that with chicken) depending on the item’s proximity to the cold plate, and its height above the bottom.

Also, digging around attempting to find items involved leaving the lid open, spilling precious cold air. There is a side door, but its insulation is nearly nonexistent. Also, opening the side door rapidly dumps much of the cold air in the fridge… so I blocked it with foam. Even though I only use the top lid, cold air still leaks out while digging for lost items. Since our fridge runs on battery power, a very limited commodity, I’m always interested in improving its efficiency. While there are mechanical improvements I can make to improve the fridge’s efficiency, this project focused on improving the fridge’s efficiency via its human interaction.

I needed a shelf. There was a shelf that came with the boat, but it only allowed access to the bottom half of the fridge via the now blocked side door. I liked how it was made from non-rotting plastic, probably King Starboard, and was easily removable for easy cleaning. I decided to make a new shelf from Starboard that allowed easy access to the bottom of the fridge while moving many items higher up the sides and out of the way. Food items that had to stay cold would be placed on the bottom, while less temperature sensitive items, like soda, beer, or condiments, could be moved out and up off the bottom.

Cardboard prototype of fridge shelf
Trying out a cardboard prototype to get the dimensions just right

Unfortunately just cutting a hole in the middle of the original shelf wouldn’t work, since once the boat heels, all the contents would be dumped into the lower level (try that with eggs!). My design includes high railings, allowing 12oz cans to be stacked 2 layers high. The outer edges of the railings are removable, allowing the entire assembly to be easily removed for cleaning.

King Starboard cuts similar to wood. I used a small router attachment bit to smooth the edges.
Checking dimensions

Plastic shelf with cans and a gallon water jug in place.
The railings are aluminum for ease of construction, but also reduce corrosion issues especially when adjacent to aluminum cans

The hole in the middle is just big enough for gallon jugs or our lunch meat container. Most lunch foods are stored in this one container to minimize foraging around the bottom while the fridge door is open.

Finished product in fridge, with stackable container on bottom

I placed a few mini milk crates (actually Compact Disc jewelry box holders… remember those?) on the bottom to keep items from sliding around. They are strong, plastic, and have holes on the side to allow air to circulate.

Fridge full of food, beer, and other items stacked on new shelf
Loaded before a cruise

Once construction was complete, I was eager to “test” the new shelf at the beginning of a cruise. I put perishable foods and milk in the now-accessible bottom section. The upper section was loaded with some canned Lakefront Brewery Riverwest Stein and New Belgium Fat Tire, along with a water jug and some condiments. After a spirited sail, including heeling on a close reach, everything had stayed put reasonably well. I could find items within seconds of opening the lid, even after several days of sailing. The beer was just the right temperature, too… cool, but not too cold. Yum!

Since cooking and snacking was so much easier, the First Mate and Crew felt this simple project was one of the best improvements to Priorities of the year.

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