As we have met other cruisers on our travels, the one thing that raises eyebrows more than the size of Pegu Club is the fact that we don’t have a refrigerator. “Really???” is the inevitable response, followed by a look in the person’s eyes that says, “Help me. I’m talking to a crazy person.” Well, we may be crazy, but it’s not because we don’t have a refrigerator.
I’ll admit that when we cut the dock lines last September if you had asked me what was the thing we would be most likely to change, I would have immediately replied, “We’ll be adding a refrigerator.” I thought we would find it was too difficult to cruise full time without one. So why didn’t we have one before we left?
As in all boat projects, it wasn’t going to be as easy as simply buying a refrigerator and plugging it in. Opting for refrigeration would mean (1) finding space; (2) adding battery capacity; (3) installing an additional solar panel to make up for the extra electrical draw; and (4) finding a place to put the third solar panel. For all of those reasons, we decided to wait and see if we really needed one. The answer is, surprisingly, no.
So how do we live without a refrigerator? How CAN we live without a refrigerator? It’s surprisingly easy. First, we have an excellent Yeti cooler. (Pegu Club does have an icebox, but we use it to store rice, beans, oils, vinegars, etc. instead). Yeti may have its naysayers due to the price, but we have yet to experience a cooler that keeps ice longer. When we are near a supermarket we’ll buy chicken, steak, etc. and use them over the next several days. The rest of the time we have pasta, grains, vegetables, beans, meals with canned meat, etc.
A key resource for us to make this work was the book “Storing Food without Refrigeration” by Carolyn Shearlock. A surprisingly large number of different food items don’t need to be refrigerated. Some of it I already knew, and others I read in Carolyn’s book.
For example, condiments don’t need to be refrigerated. This includes mayonnaise. The key is to use a clean utensil every time you dip it into the jar. Now I’ll admit I draw the line at mayonnaise. We don’t use enough of it to justify buying a jar and risking it. So we bought individual packets on Amazon (the type you find at restaurants) and use that instead. I’ve spoken to people who don’t refrigerate mayonnaise, but I still won’t do it. Go ahead and call me a wimp.
On the other hand, I’ve met people who refuse to eat unrefrigerated eggs despite our telling them that you can do it. Eggs, including previously-refrigerated eggs, will last several weeks without refrigeration and we have had no issues at all. Some people say you need to coat the shells with vaseline or oil, but we haven’t done that. We simply turn the carton over every few days, or when we think about it.
Peanut butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated, even the all-natural style that we eat. Jelly doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but similar to the mayonnaise, we buy individual jelly packets on Amazon since we don’t use enough jelly to justify buying an entire container just to watch it go bad.
All of the produce we eat will last several weeks without refrigeration except for lettuce. We buy lettuce at the supermarket and eat it right away, and we have cabbage for the rest of the time which lasts almost forever.
What about milk? We don’t drink milk as a straight beverage, so we bought powdered milk that we can mix up to use on cereal and in recipes. It tastes fine on the cereal.
Butter? We never refrigerated butter when we lived on land, so that isn’t any different now. We did notice that it wasn’t lasting as long in the Bahamas – I think because the temperatures don’t cool down much in the evening – so we’ve stopped buying it for now and will resume when we get back to the states.
Cheese? Hard cheese doesn’t need to be refrigerated. We’ve been buying cheddar here in the Bahamas and Jeff continues to eat it for several days after it’s gone to room temperature. Notice I said “Jeff” and not “we”. I’ll eat it for a day or two at room temperature, but much longer than that and the surface gets oily which I don’t find appealing. The taste is fine, but the visual? Not so much, at least for me. “Shaky cheese” as we call it (known by normal people as parmesan cheese in a bottle) doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Tofu? We’ve been able to buy shelf-stable silken tofu on Amazon, but we haven’t found anything firmer which is too bad. The silken is o.k., but it’s pretty delicate and an extra-firm would be preferable.
Bottom line, we’ve been cruising without refrigeration for almost nine months so far and it’s been completely fine. It wouldn’t work if we were big meat eaters. No way. We used to be, but over the past decade we’ve found ourselves eating much less. It also wouldn’t work if we HAD to have cold drinks. But it’s interesting how quickly you get used to drinking beverages at room temperature, and when we have ice we simply throw some soda cans in the cooler. Cold drinks feel strange in your throat at first when it’s been awhile since you’ve had one!
Will we ever have a refrigerator on Pegu Club? Maybe. We’ve discovered that we have such a small daily power draw that we have plenty of excess battery capacity. Engel makes 12 volt refrigerator/freezers that aren’t power hogs, and we could put it where the Yeti currently is. But they also cost $825, and we can think of several other things we would rather buy first.
Bottom line, cruising without a refrigerator is working out fine for us. If you are outfitting your boat on a budget, don’t just automatically assume you need to allocate money towards buying a fridge or freezer (because remember, it’s not just the fridge – it’s also the additional power sources that you need to buy). Try living without it for a while first. You may find that you can move the refrigerator further down the priority list, freeing up some money for other things instead.