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Onne’s New Goose: Upgrading the Refrigerator System

Onne van der Wal was not very happy with the refrigeration system on his 1986 Grand Banks 32. “It didn’t work very well,” he says. “It didn’t get the box cold, and it seemed to be running constantly. It used a lot of power—a lot of amps—and it was noisy. Whenever it was on, you could hear it through the whole boat. And it vibrated. I tried to put shims and rubber in there, but I couldn’t stop the vibrating.”

At the Newport Boat Show Onne met Cleave Horton, the owner of Sea Frost Refrigeration, who told him it would be simple to just replace the guts of the old, well-insulated Grand Banks ice box with a Sea Frost system.

Horton has run Sea Frost for over 30 years. The company offers a full line of marine refrigeration systems for pleasure boats and has a devoted following. Horton designed the systems himself and each one is built to order. On online forums, boaters praise Sea Frost for its products, and Horton for the excellent customer support he provides, even when the customers are down in the Caribbean.

Horton gave Onne some tips on how to optimize the install and Onne set to work. Taking the old gear out was easy. Onne undid some screws, took the old piping out, removed the old compressor and plate, and eliminated the AC wiring. He kept the DC wiring for the new Sea Frost BD Direct Evaporator System which can operate on 12- or 24-volt DC power. Sea Frost also makes higher voltage systems that can run off generators.

Onne measured how long the copper pipes had to be from the compressor in the locker to the cooling plate inside the ice chest. He gave himself an extra foot, which turned out to make life easier. He also measured the inside of the ice box to see how big the plate needed to be, and he ordered one of Sea Frost’s electronic thermostat/thermometer speed controls, which would allow him to monitor the temperature of the plate, the temperature of the box, and to regulate the compressor speed.

Onne sent all the dimensions to Sea Frost and after he received the components, the install turned out to be very straightforward. The system came pre-charged with refrigerant and the copper lines from the cold plate connected to the compressor with brass, self-sealing Aeroquip connectors that prevented refrigerant loss. “They have very good instructions,” Onne says. “The new set-up was similar to the old one, so it wasn’t rocket science.”

The Sea Frost BD Direct Evaporator System is air-cooled. Onne didn’t want to go with a water-cooled system because it would be more complicated and because he’d have to install another thru hull. He was told as long as he took nice fresh air into the system and did not use outside air—which is too corrosive because of the salt—the air-cooled system would work just as well as a water-cooled one. Onne installed louvers in the cabinet that houses the compressor near the ice box to draw air from inside the cabin and to expel heat from the compressor.

He ran the system this winter when the ambient temperature on the boat was just 60 degrees Fahrenheit and he found that the plate got frosty in 10 to 15 minutes. He’s confident the system will do well in much hotter weather, and he can’t wait to hang Sea Frost’s steel box on the cooling plate to make himself some ice cubes. “It all looks good,” Onne says. “I’m psyched I got it all done. It was a nice easy install.”

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