Tag Archives: Making ice while cruising

Galley Notes—Our Own Diamond Mine

“Ice is civilization.” — Harrison Ford, The Mosquito Coast, 1986

Cruiser’s diamonds. That’s how some refer to those little nuggets of frozen water that put the chill in ‘Chillin’ with a Sundowner.’ While a ten pound bag of chill is available for a couple of bucks in almost any marina in Florida, the price climbs rapidly the further from the US you get. Six to eight dollars a bag is pretty common in the Bahamas, and in Cuba, when we could find bagged ice, it often smelled like fish.

When we’re out cruising and living Life On The Hook™, once the ten pound bag is gone (all we have room for), we’ve been limited to the small quantity of ice balls that Rhonda can make in our freezer. Sometimes we’ve gone weeks with our daily production of concentrated cold only allowing a single cool drink for each of us per day. Every piece of ice was valuable, and almost as rare as diamonds.

We’d always just roll our eyes when someone on another boat (usually a big trawler with a generator running 24/7) would say “Oh, we have an icemaker onboard.” Can you even call that cruising? I mean, learning about what you can do without is a big part of adopting and adapting to this lifestyle of being a maritime gypsy.

But Rhonda and I were having some cocktails with Beth and Stephan on S/V Cattywampus recently, and noticed that they weren’t shy about sharing their store of this most precious resource. Every round of drinks came with an ice refill. “No more ice, I don’t want to run you out,” I said. “It’s OK, we’re making more,” they replied. “Show me,” I said. After all, this was a sailboat we were drinking on, and not many sailboats in the less than “Oh my God you’ve got to be kidding me” price range come with something as exotic as an icemaker.

Stephen pointed to a small countertop appliance. It wasn’t much larger than a four-slice toaster. But it was producing enough cruiser’s diamonds to keep four people in cubes all evening.

We already carry a few countertop appliances on Eagle Too that many cruisers would consider superfluous, such as our Foodsaver vacuum sealer and Gourmia electric pressure cooker (both of which deserve their own Galley Notes blog post). But they’re small enough to store on shelves or in lockers, and their advantages outweigh the inconvenience of finding an onboard home for them.

Surely something as important to crew morale and the general welfare as a reliable supply of ice to chill beverages deserved a place in our equipage?

We were walking the aisles of Home Depot a few days later, and what of all things did we happen to see but a big stack of Magic Chef countertop icemakers on sale for $89. Since the seed had already been planted and had some time to sprout, it only took us about 30 seconds to say “it’s a sign!” and decide to take one home.

So now we can mine our very own diamonds, pretty much whenever we want!

Here’s the lowdown on operation. I couldn’t find a wattage rating on the box in the store, but when we returned to Eagle Too and unboxed the icemaker, the UL tag on the back said it uses 650 watts continuously, and 800 watts while birthing new cubes. That’s pretty much ideal, because our 50 amp battery charger uses about the same amount of power. When we redesigned the electrical system on Eagle Too, I settled on a 50 amp battery charger because I knew our Honda EU2000i generator (2000 watts surge, 1600 watts continuous output)  could easily power it while still having about 800 watts left for other uses. So this means that next cruising season, when the occasional need arises to run Genny (our Honda’s name) to charge our batteries, we’ll also be able to plug in the icemaker and replenish our supply of cruiser’s diamonds.

Since buying the unit, we’ve run it about every third or fourth day, and it has made all the ice we use onboard, saving us a few dollars over buying bagged ice. It takes eight minutes per cycle, with each cycle producing nine cubes. Well, more like hollow cones, but you know what I mean. It makes about a pound an hour, compared to probably the pound a week we were averaging making ice balls in our freezer.

Will it turn out to be a good decision? We’ll see. Something we currently carry onboard will probably have to be left behind next season in order to make room. But as we gain more experience, we’re constantly adjusting our list of what’s essential and what’s not, so we’ve probably made enough space due to things we’ve already taken off the boat this off-season. Also, I’ve heard stories that these units only last about 8 months to a year in continuous use. That will be disappointing if it turns out to be true, but then again, every season we have to buy replacements for something (or several somethings) that we expected to last for years, but barely made it through a single season, like power cords and solar lights, or fuel cans and dinghy paddles, to name just a few. So if we get a year’s worth of reliable diamond production out of it, we’ll probably be happy.

One last comment before wrapping this up. The icemaker we bought was branded Magic Chef, and it has a sturdiness about it that I like. We were recently in Sam’s Club and saw a stack of no-name icemakers of similar design for the same $89 price. But when I examined one, it had a cheap and flimsy feel about it that totally turned me off. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if one of those bit the bullet within a year. I’m hoping ours is a bit better quality.

Great Balls Of Ice

Ample (or at least adequate) amounts of power, water, and ice. It can mean the difference between a comfortable cruising life and a life of “tell me again what part of this was supposed to be fun?” We’ve described our efforts to ensure that we have plenty of electrical power in our More Power, Scotty! posts (still one or two more posts to go before that series is done), and we addressed how we’ll make sure the taps are always flowing in Making It Rain. But we hadn’t yet tackled the issue of how to ensure that there will always be plenty of ice to make frosty boat drinks.

Until now, the way we’ve dealt with ensuring we always had ice for the Mojitos has been simple. We walk up the to marina office and buy a 10 pound bag of ice, repeating as necessary. While that approach has served us well during our life on the pier, we knew it wasn’t going to support our Margarita habit once we depart for our Life On The Hook™. But what to do?

Fortunately, Eagle Too has a fairly large freezer (remember we’re talking about a boat here, so fairly large means about four or five cubic feet) and separate refrigerator, and since we do now have a more than adequate amount of power available, we keep them turned to their lowest settings. So it seemed like going old-school and getting some ice cube trays should work. Unfortunately, because of our freezer’s odd size, a regular ice cube tray can’t lay flat anywhere inside, and even it if could, it’s unlikely that the water would stay in the tray long enough to become ice, since boats have this weird tendency to rock and roll and pitch about and cause things to not necessarily stay where you put them. And there’s just no way we’d be willing to pay the obscene, highway robbery price (almost $80 each) that Adler Barbour wants for their vertical ice cube trays.

We were looking for a solution. We first experimented with these no-spill trays from OXO. They have a silicone rubber flap that in theory is supposed to seal the open top of the tray so that it can be tilted without losing the contents. But the problem with a lot of theories is that they don’t stand up to actual real world practice. When we received our two floppy-topped trays and tried to put them in our freezer, we found that they were too long to fit inside the evaporator box, which means they had to be slid underneath it. This meant tilting the trays nearly vertical to fit them past the evaporator and get them down to the bottom of the freezer compartment. And while the rubber flaps on top did sort of slow down how fast the water drained from the trays when they were tilted, you definitely could not call them no-spill. While not quite a total fail, we knew we needed something better.

I remembered reading on another sailing blog about molds to make round ice balls, which sounded like it could possibly be our solution. But I seemed to recall that their approach involved individual molds that made one ice ball each, and we knew we were going to have to fuss with a lot of individual little molds to keep the ice coming. But it gave us a path to follow. After exploring some twists and turns along that trail on Amazon, we found these:

Savvy Ice 2 Pack Silicon Sphere Ice Molds

Intrigued, we ordered a pair, and broke them out to give them a try as soon as they arrived. They seemed to be the perfect size for our freezer, and are stackable. The first thing we learned was to ignore the instructions, which tell  you to fill the lower mold with water and then press the upper mold in place. This just made a wet mess. No, we learned it worked really well to go ahead and press the mold halves together (there’s a satisfying click-like feel as the two parts engage) and then fill them with a measuring cup through the little holes. This way you get each ball completely full, with no spillage. Pop them in the freezer, and viola, several hours later we had ice balls!Ice2


It worked so well that we immediately ordered another pair of molds. We’re still experimenting with how long it takes to make a batch of balls, but we’ve started keeping two half-gallon plastic jugs in the freezer, and at least twice a day we can birth a batch of balls and put them in the jugs to stockpile a ready supply of adult beverage coolers.

It’s been said that ice is civilization. Eagle Too is now a most civilized place. 🙂