S/V Hello World's Travel Log

fridge box construction

(Boat nerd disclaimer - this blog post is going to be boring. It's mostly about what I did to build the box liner, where I screwed up, and how I fixed what I did wrong in the first place. If you want to know how to build a fridge, read on. If you could give a crap about building a fridge, here's some kittens singing Led Zeppelin.)

I thought constructing the box for the fridge interior would be messy and smelly and itchy and fairly time consuming. I underestimated how much by orders of magnitude. As a caveat: this was my first fiberglassing project. Coming into this part of the fridge project, everything I knew about how to fiberglass I learned on the internet. In articles on the internet, it looks pretty straightforward. Those articles always have some guy in snappy coveralls, safety glasses, safety respirator and safety gloves without a single speck of resin in his hair or on his elbows or up his nose. Those articles can kiss my ass.

Box Construction

I used 1/2" marine ply to build out the walls of the box. I had visions of the wood slowly turning into mush over the years so after cutting the pieces out and dry fitting them, I coated the individual pieces in epoxy. Before installing the box walls, I put in a moisture barrier between the box and insulation. I chose Reflectix insulation sealed with foil tape. In areas where the insulation didn't mate perfectly with the marine ply box walls, the Reflectix gave me some wiggle room to compress it. I wanted to avoid any air gaps right next to the box walls where condensation could build and introduce moisture into the insulation.

I then installed the epoxied box walls. I soon learned that the void created by the insulation resulted in a space comprised of not a single 90 degree angle. Because the Reflectix had some give to it, I was able to get the walls into something resembling plumb. I did have to brace the walls at a few spots where the insulation behind them wanted to bow the walls out.

After bracing the walls, I screwed the walls to the aluminum angle iron I installed underneath the counter top. Then I spent a frustrating and f-bomb filled couple of hours filleting the seams with thickened epoxy will hanging upside down and working around the braces I installed. The take-away lesson seemed to be that I was too stingy on the epoxy filler and should have thickened the mixture more than I had (I used mayonnaise consistency, should have used peanut butter consistency). I was using West Systems Low Density fairing filler which is fortunately easily sandable and results in a pretty forgiving material. In the end, I got the fillets installed but spent another few f-bomb filled hours sanding down the sloppy results.


Next up was the actual fiberglassing. This the point that I learned fiberglass cloth's natural tendency to unravel. It will unravel when you try to coat it with epoxy. It will unravel when you cut it. It will start unraveling you pull the scissors out. I gave one piece a sideways glance and the next thing I knew, it turned into a pile of unrelated fibers. This meant that when I wet out the cloth I applied to the box walls, I had strings dangling off the seams all over the place. These strings combine with the resin to turn into sticky, adhesive epoxy boogers. Grab one to get it out of the layup and it will unravel seven or eight other ones. I finally just ended up leaving the errant strings in place and sanded them down after the resin cured.

I added fiberglass to the box interior both to waterproof the wood but to also give the interior seams strength. I used one or two layers of 10oz. cloth on the walls themselves and three or four layers in the seams, particularly in the floor. All these overlapping layups resulted in a pretty lumpy finish, especially in the floor. I mixed up some more thickened epoxy and liberally slathered it all over the place. I poured a thick covering on the floor and let it self level. This gave me a layer I could fair without grinding away all the strengthening layers I put in place at the seams.

After everything cured, I washed down the walls with scotchbrite and water to remove the blush (I never saw any but read that West Systems epoxy blushes so I did it anyways). I then went to work on it with an orbital sander and 60 grit discs. As I got closer to fair, I moved up to 80 and then 100 grit discs. I discovered that epoxy + fiberglass is pretty workable material. After all the lumps and drips in the original layup, I was able to fair it all out pretty smooth.


Here's where I went off the reservation a bit. I was determined to find a paintable, food safe, impact resistant finish for the interior walls. I scoured the internet for such a thing. I asked the folks at the local fiberglass shop. I asked at the local chandlery. I hit up the sailing and cruising forums. I even hit up the boat refrigeration forum (talk about a niche site). No one had an answer for me.

So I fell back to a default position that I had a sinking feeling was not going to go well. I chose to use epoxy but add a white pigment to it. I didn't choose this because I thought it would be the easiest or best solution. I chose it because I never could come up with a better idea. Pigmented epoxy has any number of problems in this application but I'll give you the greatest hits:

  • Epoxy is a two part solution that requires some healthy mixing. That healthy mixing introduces air bubbles which will lovingly transfer into your finish. When they pop, the surface looks cratered and pock marked. I've tried using a blowtorch to knock out the bubbles with limited success (and unlimited possibility of burning our boat to the waterline). I also tried misting denatured alcohol on the surface (I was smart enough to not try this at the same time as the blowtorch trick) which took care of the really small bubbles but didn't help with the large bubbles that surface after an hour or so.
  • The liquid carrier for white pigment is actually just resin. Which means if you add too much pigment, you can throw the resin/hardener ratio off and the epoxy will never cure. So you have to be very careful about how much pigment you add. Which means each coat you add doesn't have much coverage for the colors behind it. Which means you have to add 5 or 6 coats in order to produce a solid white color.
  • You have about a 45 minute window about four hours after you apply a coat to apply the next coat. When you need 5 or 6 coats, well... do the math. It makes for an ugly Monday morning after rolling epoxy at 4AM.
  • Epoxy has so much viscosity that it can't help but sag or run on a vertical surface. I could also never get it to self level so my attempts at rolling and tipping resulted in seeing all the brush strokes. "Why didn't you cut the epoxy with some thinner?" asks everybody I mention this to. Because the 5 or 6 coats I had to add would have turned into many, many more.

In the end, I chose to add a ton of coats of sorta messy epoxy (I believe I counted 10 coats across two different sessions) and then work it down into something decent looking. I learned from surf board building forums (click here for the coolest wood & squid surfboard you'll see all day) that you can build up a nice looking gloss with epoxy. Here's what I did to get a glossy finish from a very messy epoxy application:

  • Knocked down all the drips and sags with 80 grit
  • Faired surface and smoothed out pock marks with 100 grit
  • Further sanding with 220 grit and then 320 grit
  • Wet sanded with 400 grit
  • Wet sanded with 600 grit
  • Wet sanded with 800 grit
  • Wet sanded with 1000 grit
  • Wet sanded with 1200 grit
  • Took a buffing wheel attachment on a drill and worked a polishing compound into the surface
  • Washed off the polishing compound and had a beer

The end result? Not bad. I sanded through the coverage in a few spots so you can see shadows of the colors behind the white epoxy but mostly in areas you can't see so I don't care. The rest of it came out pretty nice. It also results in a glossy surface that will be much easier to clean than if I had left it matte.

The last piece of the box construction itself was to add a removable bottom on the floor so any foodstuff doesn't end up sitting in water at the bottom the fridge. I order a simple sheet of polycarbonate from Tapp Plastics, drilled drain holes in it, rounded the edges, and drilled a couple finger sized holes to be able to remove it. The final test of the box construction was to check the results were true to the original design. Is the height of the "beer can well" the exact height of a can of beer? See for yourself:

This part took forever partially because we took the summer off to put on a new bowsprit and windlass (long story, I'll tell you later) and partially because it was just way harder than I thought.

Next up? How to build a fridge lid. I know, I can hardly wait!


In Seattle? Liveaboards get to race their houses. The winner gets a hat that says "I have the fastest house on Puget Sound".

Sadly, we received no such hat. We were, in fact, the slowest house on Puget Sound. DFL in sailing terms (Dead F'ing Last). Turns out that everyone else in this race was somewhat serious. We had big plans to take the prize for "boat that most looks like a liveaboard" - bikes on the deck, bbq on the bowrail, dinghy on the davits. We were unaware there was not such a prize (besides, we were too lazy for the bikes and the bbq, so we just went with the dinghy).

That's right. We race with our dinghy.

We went out with Jacob, Julia and CB - had a fantastic time - we even scared another boat at one of the mark roundings with our big anchor - they steered clear!

Slowest house on Puget Sound? Yes, but at least we can sail these days!

This is the closest you will EVER see HW sailing to another boat (if Jason has his way)

Good day on the water.

Well, my part is done

Did you miss us? We have been remiss in posting because a) not much exciting is going on and b) we've been busy working on the fridge project. Still. We're thinking about contacting Guinness because we might just be setting the record for longest running boat project.

But at least my part is done. ;)

Jason asked me to do the easy part. Install the compressor. The old compressor lived in the cockpit locker but we had big plans for the new one - we wanted it in the cabin because the warm air that it generates will be used to circulate in some of the lockers and prevent mold (so goes the plan anyway - we might be kicking ourselves when we get to Mexico).

Here is the newly completed compressor install:

The fridge saga continues...it'll probably get done just in time to head north to Alaska where the glaciers abound and ice cream can be kept frozen outside.

How to run a messenger line

These past two weeks of (planned) vacation, we've ended up doing too much (unplanned) boat project work. Ugh. But we've gathered a bunch of ideas from some experts on running messenger lines that we thought useful to pass along...here are the big three:

1) Gravity: tie something flexible and heavy to your line at the top of the run and use gravity to do the trick. A bike chain or a line of nuts seems to work pretty well in some applications.

2) Magnet: using (non-stainless) bolts or some other metal tied to your line, get yourself a decently powerful magnet and lead the line where you want it to go from the outside.

3) Vacuum: tape off all other inlets/outlets, use your shop vac to pull a string tied with Kleenex through the run (this worked particularly well on our bow pulpit).

And when you finally get to running your electrical wire, decide on a suitable knot (we use 1-2 rolling hitches) and grab that KY Jelly from the bedroom and put it in your toolbox.

New drink recipe

I'm not one to mix stuff into my beer. This whole clamato-juice-in-beer thing just doesn't do it for me. But tonight, I was convinced to try shandy (thank you Kevin and Nicole). What is shandy you ask? It's very complicated:

1/2 glass lemonade
1/2 glass cheap beer

It's delicious. Very refreshing, and as Kevin pointed out, you can drink it all day and be fine. I plan to attempt this tomorrow while working on boat projects.


While in Hot Springs Cove in 2009, we followed the tradition of carving our boat name into the boardwalk. We spent a day working on the board to get it just right. Our friends Aaron and Nicole aboard s/v Bella Star were just in Hot Springs Cove and notified us that our board has been defaced.

Our board.

We just can't have nice things.

(Note: we have come to realize that since not everyone know's Aaron's sense of humor, not everyone realizes that this little practical joke is something Aaron relishes and has been planning for weeks. There was no permanent defacing, just temporary enough to crack us right the hell up.)

Sometimes money does buy happiness

We have a few closely held beliefs on Hello World.

Money doesn’t provide happiness. These days it seems like we’re always after the bigger and better gadget. More stuff. Bigger house. Need more money to get more stuff. Even on the boat, where we can’t fit much of anything, we find that when we’re docked, we accumulate stuff so quickly. I know deep down that it’s just stuff. Stuff and money don’t make us happy (but it’s still hard to get rid of all of those shoes). We know this. It’s what we believe.

We do all of our own work on the boat. There have been exceptions here and there, when we simply don’t have the expertise to do a particular job, but for the most part, we’ve done just about all of the work and upgrades on Hello World. We’ve done this for 2 reasons: we’re always saving for the next trip (it’s so much cheaper to do it ourselves). And it’s really important to us to know the systems on our boat; be able to fix them if (when) they start acting up – especially because we’re likely to be in the middle of nowhere and have no one to rely on.

Last week, in a flurry of boatyard activity, working real jobs, prepping for multiple weekends out of town and fighting with insurance companies, we just couldn’t take it anymore. We could have prepped and painted the bottom (in fact, we started), but the prospect seemed daunting to both of us and we were completely unmotivated. Neither of us wanted to broach the idea, but we both were thinking the same thing; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just pay someone to do this for us?

We justified it to ourselves by saying Jason would have to take off of work to do the painting. That, in the end, the money was about a wash. But the reality was, we just didn’t want to do it. Enter the professionals.

We continually discover ways in which we are not nearly as hard core
as we thought we were. But then, maybe there's a little happiness in
that, too.

(before the brilliant idea to pay someone else to do this...)

Dear Jabsco,

Thank you for manufacturing the cheapest toilets out there, but your products are supposed to dispose of crap, not be crap.

Hello World

Well, we finally dumped the ol' Jabsco in the trash. It was a long time coming. We decided while in Mexico that we will never allow Rule/Jabsco products on the boat any longer. We still have 1 residual toilet in the aft head, but it's been out of commission longer than I can remember. Therein lies the issue. They're cheap, yes, and you get what you pay for. Even after downsizing to one head so we could cannibalize parts in Mexico, our one working toilet still leaked because of cracks in the cheapo plastic, important parts breaking off, etc. We tried to convince all guests aboard Hello World that the leak was in the inlet hose (not the poo hose!) - I'm not sure anyone ever really believed us.

ANYWAY. Enough of my rant. We got a new Lavac!

Not only is it pretty, it doesn't leak. Also? It works. The mechanics are amazingly simple. The installation, as with any head, were a bit of a pain in the a**, but it's finally in and we can invite people over without embarrassment :)

A few lessons that I learned:
  1. I feel like I finally got the hang of removing and installing sanitary hose (I know, this is exciting stuff). The secret?? KY Jelly on the inside of the hose and the outside of whatever you're putting it on. Then add heat (both the heat gun and the hairdryer worked well). I had tried these options separately before, but together, that's the ticket. Now we can be embarrassed about guests finding our KY Jelly, instead of our leaky head...

  2. As much as I love that the hoses are hidden with our bulkhead mounted pump, it was a serious hassle to install and it will be a hassle to take apart if ever we need to take it apart. I'm still happy we went with the hidden hoses, but I had a different opinion this past weekend. I'm bi-polar like that.

  3. The key that no one ever writes about? When installing a Lavac, it requires a tiny hole at the top of the inlet hose loop so the vacuum will release. The size of this hole determines the amount of water left in the bowl. That much is well documented. What they don't tell you is that if that inlet line doesn't go straight to the toilet (ours dips to the floor then back up to the toilet), that hole needs to be at the highest point just before the toilet. Normal people wouldn't run their hoses this way, but we wanted to use existing holes in the cabinetry.

  4. And finally, thanks to some advice from our friends on s/v Former Pisces, we rummaged through the lockers and found some canned goods that we will never eat. Instead of testing the head with real "product", we used this stuff (which may actually be nastier). This way, if there was a leak or a problem, we're not dealing with even more poo.

Jamon de Diablo - Ham of the Devil. Maybe I was drunk when I bought that? I don't know what I was thinking...

Anyway, all things considered, it was a "relatively" easy job (maybe because I'm comparing this to the aforementioned fridge project). Only 3 trips to Fisheries, 3 trips to the hardware store and about 2 days of swearing. So far, that's about 42 times easier than the fridge project...which is nowhere close to done.

You didn't think we'd do an entire post about the head without the obligatory plumbers butt picture, did you?

fridge insulation

I figured it would take me one weekend to install the insulation for the fridge box. Possibly two weekends if something went horribly wrong. That was back in February. I just finished the insulation install Friday. By my count, that task took two weekends plus or minus 8 weekends. Granted, I really wasn't working on the fridge the whole time. There was a lot of downtime this winter due to weather and generally lack of motivation (at least two of those weekends back in February were devoted to The Wire marathons).

My original plan was to install 2" XPS (extruded polystyrene) sheets underneath the fridge box and against the hull. XPS is good at resisting water entry but has a slightly lower R value of R5. I planned on using polyisocyanurate on the inboard walls where I had less space for insulation. Polyiso is rated at R6.5 but it doesn't deal well with moisture. It also doesn't handle being cut and manipulated nearly as well as it tends to crumble. I decided to use it only on the inboard facing wall next to the sink, mostly because it proved to be a real pain in the ass. The rest of the walls in the fridge got the XPS treatment. Against the curve of the hull above the waterline where the sun hits the hull, I glued Reflectix onto the outward face of XPS boards and left about a one inch air gap between the hull and insulation. The idea is to reflect radiative heat transfer from the sun hitting the hull. I have no idea if this will make a difference but given the difficulty of matching rectilinear foam boards with the curve of the hull, I was going to end up with an air gap anyways, so I thought I'd take advantage of it.

XPS sheets being installed in the floor. The pink and blue sheets are both XPS, just different manufacturers.

Polyisocyanurate insulation installed on the inboard wall.

The reflectix insulation installed against the hull.

Given the oppressive amounts of cold beer and ice I plan on storing in this fridge box, I needed some structure to support the weight of the box. My goal was to provide some beefy structure without having to cut out much insulation. I ended up using 2" aluminum angle iron mounted longitudinally under the fridge box. I through-bolted epoxy covered brackets on the fore and aft cabinet walls and laid the aluminum beam on top of those brackets to sit flush with a layer of insulation. I used the same material mounted under the countertop to support the vertical walls of the fridge box.

Longitudinal aluminum angle iron support.

My construction process went a little something like this:
  • First, I installed an epoxy covered wood standoff on the cabinet floor so if any moisture got into the cabinet, the insulation would not sit in it. I drilled a few weep holes from the floor into the bilge so water couldn't build up.
  • I put a layer of builder's plastic against the hull. The idea was if the deck to hull joint or deck stanchion started leaking into the cabinet, it wouldn't penetrate the insulation. I didn't encapsulate the entire insulation in a vapor barrier because I've read that all that does is trap moisture inside the insulation. A more accurate way of stating that would be: I encapsulated the entire insulation in a vapor barrier THEN I read that all that does is trap moisture inside the insulation THEN I spent a weekend removing the vapor barrier and three tubes of silicon I used to hang the vapor barrier.
  • The only option we had to run wiring for the compressor install is currently crammed with wiring and would require removing some wire to accomodate the compressor wiring. Given that I had 9" to 11" of space for insulation against the hull near the top of the box, I decided to install a wiring conduit in the back of the box. I'm not wild about this choice. Cutting the insulation around the conduit was a giant pain.
  • Cut and dry fit foam for a single wall. This is a very iterative process when you have to work through the opening (oh, this perfectly cut piece of foam doesn't fit inside the opening) and when you have a complex curve and fridge box that steps down (oh, this perfectly cut piece of foam doesn't actually fit the space it's supposed to fit in).
  • Once I got all the pieces cut and dry fit (and labeled, all the pieces start to look the same after a while), I installed the insulation for that wall. I caulked every seam and joint with silicon to make sure that there was no air passage through the insulation. Every gap larger than 1/8", got injected with spray foam. Here's a tip with spray foam: wear latex gloves and a long sleeve shirt when using this crap. You'll think you're being all super careful and cautious and then your wife will point and guffaw at the cabbage-sized glob of spray foam hanging on your elbow of which portions will remain stuck to you three days later.
  • Once the spray foam cured, I'd trim it back down and coat any exposed spray foam with silicon. Spray foam doesn't like moisture either. One other note about spray foam: it cures with some pretty large air bubbles in it so don't depend on it for any large voids. I relied on it more as way to prevent air passage, rather than proper insulation.
  • Once the wall was done, I moved on to the next wall. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • After all the insulation was in place, I caulked all the seams a final time with silicon to make sure no air was going to leak through the box.

The end result of all this foam cutting and fitting and caulking:
  • 9" of XPS insulation below the fridge box.
  • Anywhere from 5" to about 11" of XPS insulation against the hull.
  • 4" of XPS insulation on the aft cabinet wall.
  • 6" of XPS insulation on the forward cabinet wall.
  • 3" of polyisocyanurate insulation plus 3/4" of layers of reflectix because I couldn't find 3/4" foam boards.

Bare fridge cabinet.

Standoff installed.

Plastic installed against the hull.

Floor insulation complete along with brackets for longitudinal support beam.

Aluminum angle iron acting as a support beam.

Inboard wall with polyiso insulation and then covered with Reflectix. You can also see the aluminum angle iron used as a support for the vertical fridge walls.

Forward wall complete.

Aft wall complete.

This was all the foam I used in just the top half of the outboard wall against the hull.

I think I cut about 30 individual pieces of foam to fit the outboard wall.

Insulation is DONE!

Sizing some of the foam pieces.

Our disaster of a cockpit during construction. I did all the foam cutting in our cockpit. Any attempt to cut foam on the dock ended up with foam particles in the water and that's no bueno.

If you feel that you just haven't gotten enough pictures of pink and blue foam, I took an extensive amount of photos and uploaded them here.

iverson dodger, bimini and cockpit enclosure

We sailed for a few years with Hello World's original canvas cockpit covers. The dodger windows were mostly opaque and distorted. The bimini canvas was easier to see through than the windows. The material was started to decompose and fall apart. The frames were rusty and flimsy. Any attempt to prevent a crew overboard in a seaway by grabbing hold of our dodger or bimini would have ended with a very startled crew member swimming next a pile of stainless steel and blue canvas.

No longer, people.

We employed the services of Iversons Designs to remedy our canvas woes. And remedy them, they did. We spoke with Jason Iverson at the boat show about what we were looking for. The interesting thing about Iverson's is that they don't really go to your boat and quote you a price. They have a standard price for their dodgers and biminis and standard prices for all the extras so he was able to give us a quote without knowing anything about our boat. The first time they step foot on your boat, they are there to build.

We requested a new dodger, bimini, solar panel mounts on top of the bimini, a full cockpit enclosure and just about every extra option we could get our grubby hands on. We also ponied up a little extra for the dodger that allows us to completely zip out all the windows and store them below. After handing over a $300 deposit back in February, we reluctantly waited our turn. If you want what they got, pack a lunch because you're going to wait for it. Finally, in mid-April we got a call asking if they could start the next day.

The build team came out and talked with us for a bit about what we wanted. They were very accomodating to our requests. Even though he didn't write anything down in our 30 minute conversation, he nailed everything I asked for. By the end of the day, we had our new stainless steel frames. I got to the boat after work and found the bimini frame to be a bit lower than I'd like. I sent an email asking them to raise it an inch or two. I waited for the reply giving me all kinds of excuses about why they couldn't raise it (the boom was perilously close, the stainless steel frames were already cut, bent and installed), but 10 minutes later I got an email quickly telling me "no problem at all". The next time they came out, the bimini frame was sure enough, two inches higher.

A word of caution about their install. They will bed every bit of hardware into the deck with 3M 5200. If you ever want a shot at removing any of their bedded hardware, you have to request they use something else. I didn't mind the snaps to the deck installed with 5200 but I did not want the frame footings mounted with 5200. Since all they carried was 5200 and silicon, I gave them a tube of 4200. Later in the summer when the weather improves, I'll pull the footings off, over drill the holes, fill with expoxy and through bolt the footings through the deck. At that point I'll bed the bolts with something a little more sealant like (3M 101 or butyl sealant) and a little less adhesive like.

Over a period of two weeks, they installed the dodger, bimini, solar panel mounts and finally the cockpit enclosure. Since then, I have poured over every inch of their work. The craftsmanship is excellent. Full of small details you don't notice at first like a small flashlight above the companionway, snaps to hold the cockpit enclosure panels out of the way when unzipped, and grab loops at exactly the right place when you need to pull the fabric together to zip panels together. Every possible chafe point is protected with at a minimum some kind of vinyl fabric and in several places with leather. Many of the seams and edges have two or three rows of stitching in place. And? It looks good. These guys have a keen eye for aesthetics. Covering the ass end of your boat with reams of canvas can turn out pretty ungainly. We've seen plenty of examples where canvas has gone horribly wrong. This installation looks like a natural extension of the boat, like Caliber had this in mind the whole time.

Let's be clear: this quality comes at a price. Iverson is not in the business of giving these things away. His prices seem to be incrementally more expensive than others out there. If you just went with the standard dodger and bimini, you're probably going to pay in the same ballpark as you would elsewhere (surprisingly, Mexico was not really any cheaper). We super-sized our canvas order so we're paying a pretty healthy bill. But given the quality of work and responsiveness we received, we'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Now, every night Christy and I have dinner out in the cockpit. We sit up there browsing the internet or reading. When we're home we rarely put the hatchboards in, even if it's 48 degrees and pouring rain. The cockpit enclosure has essentially given us another room on the boat. And this room has a bitchin' water view.

(Disclosure: We have no affiliation with Iverson's Design other than being a one-time customer. When a marine vendor does good work and treats us well, we want to let people know about it.)