Friday, February 26, 2016

Aft Cabin Redesign

Anyone who's lived on (or spent extended periods of time in) a boat, RV, or small apartment knows that storage space is extremely important. The original Andromeda/Christina layout for the aft cabin had ample storage, but modifications that were started by a previous owner dramatically changed Phoenix's aft cabin, with some changes for the better and some that needed improvement.

In the typical Andromeda/Christina master stateroom, the bed is to port, there are three hanging lockers (1 to starboard, 1aft and 1 to port), and a large set of drawers to starboard. The head is also on the port side, just forward of the aft cabin. Bruce Bingham designed three alternate ways to enter the head -- from the main cabin only (depicted below), from the aft cabin only, or dual entry from both the main and aft cabins. In Phoenix, access to the head is through the aft cabin only.
Original Andromeda interior layout. Notice the three hanging lockers and bed along the port side. In this version, the head access is through the main cabin. Aboard Phoenix, you access the head through the aft cabin.
One of Phoenix's previous owners built a pedestal bed in the master stateroom, so our bed is on center line, with a TON of under-the-bed storage. We really prefer the pedestal bed -- we both have better ventilation and no one is sleeping up against the hull or climbing over the other person to get in/out of bed. The only drawback is that we lost the aft hanging locker and the large set of drawers with the change.

Our port-side hanging locker was also converted to a large vanity. This moved the sink out of the head and into the aft cabin, which made room for us to design a spacious shower enclosure (in progress) instead of showering in the middle of head as originally designed. So we essentially gained a better bed and head layout that we love, but lost some cabinet space in exchange.

The initial aft cabin modifications gave the aft cabin a very open, airy feel; there were small lower cubbies, open shelves, and short upper cabinets along the hull on both port and starboard sides. We initially made teak and caning doors for the short upper cabinets when we made the first 26 cabinet doors and weren't planning to do any major changes to the design. The only plan was to add trim and a few finishing touches.

Aft cabin "before" with pedestal bed, but prior to our redesign

The small upper cabinets and shelving before our redesign

Lower, open cubbies and shelves before our redesign

However, as we spent more time aboard, our feelings towards the aft cabin layout began to change. We had plenty of open storage to accommodate our clothes and other "stuff" but the aft cabin looked messy with everything out in plain view. No matter how organized we were, the aft cabin looked cluttered. We decided we needed more (and larger) cabinets to properly stow our belongings and keep things neatly placed behind closed doors.

The first step was deconstructing our current cabinet facing and removing the teak fiddle rails. Once that was done our friend Kurt helped Bill rough in new cabinets along both sides of the hull.

Old cabinet facing and trim removed along the port side-- ready to start building new cabinets!

Port side cabinets roughed in.
Once the cabinets were built, I painted the insides, and we then faced the cabinets with teak ply.

Port side cabinets with teak facing
Starboard side cabinets faced, finished and ready for trim
Next, Bill custom milled and installed teak trim around the cabinets.

Teak trim installed around our new aft cabin cabinets

Next came teak trim for the ceiling panels, around the aft hatch, and mizzen mast, followed by teak and caning doors to match the others that we installed previously. We were able to salvage one of the smaller caning doors on each side that we previously made for the short upper cabinets.

New port side cabinets with doors installed

Starboard side cabinets and ceiling trim

I love all of the new, organized space we've created!
I can't wait for the warm weather to return so we can start utilizing our new space! Our new cabinets and aft cabin redesign provide a ton of room for us to properly stow clothes, eliminates the cluttered look we once had and gets us one HUGE step closer to becoming full time live aboards!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

We Have Refrigeration! -- Installing our Frigoboat Keel Cooled System

The older AC/DC Norcold refrigerator/freezer that came with Phoenix gave up the ghost when Bill motored Phoenix home from Detroit several years ago. Since then we've been relying on well insulated coolers with frozen jugs and/or block ice to keep our food and beverages cold while sailing. This was fine for 5-7 day trips on the Bay, but after that the search for marinas or grocery stores with block ice was a bit of a pain. As part of our galley redesign, it was time to finish our custom refrigerator box, install the Frigoboat refrigerator system, and say goodbye to the ice chests under the salon table.

We kept both of the doors and the framing from our old Norcold refrigerator/freezer so that we could re-purpose them with our new boxes.
Our old Norcold refrigerator/freezer that came with Phoenix

The plan was to have an under-the-counter refrigerator using the old refrigerator door, and we'll use the freezer door for the freezer box that will come later. Bill designed a 6 cubic foot stainless box to fit in the galley, and our friend/local metal fabricator made it to spec.

My Dad and Uncle David helped build the lower cabinet that houses the refrigerator during one of their visits, which we then faced with teak ply. Next, it was time for the insulation. We toyed with purchasing vacuum insulation panels (VIPs) in order to maximize the amount of insulation around the box, but we've heard from many people who were disappointed in their performance, and it seems that many of their R-values are overstated. Plus, they're expensive. We didn't want to invest a ton of money into VIPs only to be disappointed with them down the road, and we had enough room for 3+ inches of foam, so we opted for R5 polystyrene foam boards that are readily available at local hardware stores. Bill cut the panels to size, then staggered and sealed all of the seams so that the box was well insulated.
Polystyrene foam in our new refrigerator box housing

Once the foam was in place, we slid in the stainless steel refrigerator box.
Stainless steel refrigerator box in place, just starting to remove the protective film from the metal
We purchased a Frigoboat Keel Cooled K50 system for the refrigeration. If you're not familiar with the keel coolers, they are similar to water cooled systems, but instead of pumping water into and out of the boat, the refrigerant is pumped outside the boat to a heat exchanging plate mounted on the keel (or well under the waterline). It's a completely closed system, and the only moving part is the Danfoss compressor. The heat exchange is very efficient, the system is extremely quiet, and best of all, it does not blow warm air into the cabin like air cooled systems.
Frigoboat Keel Cooled System
The downside, of course, is that you have to haul the boat in order to install the keel cooler. This was done when we pulled the boat for new bottom paint and installed our Max-prop feathering propeller.

The evaporator plate was bent to fit our box dimensions at the factory before it was shipped to us, so with the box and keel cooler in place, it was time to mount the evaporator plate. Bill mounted it to the upper portion of the box, and drilled a hole through the side of the box for the copper tube to fit through (this hole was later filled with insulation around the copper tubing).

With such a large box, we had to figure out how to mount shelves to maximize our usable space. We purchased aluminum L brackets from our local hardware store, and riveted them to the sides of the box to hold the shelves in place.
Refrigerator box with evaporator plate and lower shelf supports installed

We opted to mount the temperature control module (thermostat) outside of the refrigerator box (inside the cabinet just outboard of our refrigerator) in the hopes that the drier environment would extend its lifespan. To maximize airflow to the compressor, it was mounted outside of the cabinets and under our gimbaled stove.
Frigoboat K50 Compressor

We purchased 20" deep Rubbermaid TightMesh coated wire shelving that we cut to size to give us two shelves. We found that we could fit 2 3-gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck Storage Boxes at the base of our refrigerator to serve as our "crisper" drawers. Bill cut a scrap piece of Lexan to fit on the lower shelf to protect the food in our "crisper" from getting too cold.
Our custom refrigerator shelves and "crisper" drawers

We gave our old refrigerator door a face lift by installing a stainless steel front, and we were finally ready to install the door, fire up the compressor, and see how our system worked.
Our "new" refrigerator door
At first pass, the compressor fired up but the evaporator plate didn't frost over and the incoming capillary tube was freezing -- something that's not supposed to happen. We did some troubleshooting online and contacted Coastal Climate Control for technical support. They suggested that we needed to buy a Filter-Drier Tube to remove moisture from the system and address capillary tube blockage caused by the moisture. Lucky for us, they're located in Annapolis, so we drove over, picked up the drier and came home to install it between the keel cooler and the evaporator plate. We were careful to ensure that the drier tube was vertically mounted, as instructed.  [Not sure why it's not included as part of the kit, but that's another story].
Frigoboat Filter-Drier installed between the keel cooler and the evaporator plate
Hopeful that the drier would do the trick, we fired up the compressor and tried again. It certainly helped prevent the incoming capillary tube before the evaporator from completely icing over, but the system was still not working correctly. Frigoboat systems come pre-charged with R134A refrigerant, but apparently our charge was low.

We purchased an air conditioning R134A manifold gauge set and some R134A refrigerant to charge the system. Unlike a car where you actually use the gauges to determine when you've added enough refrigerant, Frigoboats require a bit more "finesse." The system is charged when the evaporator plate
just starts to frost over the whole evaporator plate, regardless of the gauge reading.

After Bill charged the system, we finally had a wonderful, efficient, working refrigeration system on Phoenix! The compressor is super quiet, draws very little power, and allows ample space for provisioning!

Building and installing our refrigerator was quite a process, but it was worth the wait! Our endless search for block ice is over and no more races to drain the coolers before our floating Ziploc bags filled with water and spoiled our food!

Another successful upgrade!