During our second day on the island, a faint smell of ammonia was detected in the kitchen. Initially it was put down to someone’s cooking (no offense given and none was taken) but on the third day, following a morning pontoon ride, we returned to find the interior of the cabin – most noticeably the kitchen and main living area – engulfed in ammonia fumes. This precipitated a string of events: a) the need to stay out of the cabin unless one was from Neptune, b) finding other outdoor activities while the cabin aired out, and, c) a lengthy discussion about how to resolve the problem.
The source of the fumes was in little doubt. One of the two Servel propane refrigerators – the main unit in the kitchen - had sprung a fatal leak. You see, a propane refrigerator (not unlike the one we have in our RV) works something like this: Propane gas is used to heat a solution of water and ammonia to the boiling point of ammonia. The boiling solution is separated and the ammonia gas flows to a condenser where the heat is dissipated and the ammonia is returned to a liquid state. The really cool part (quite literally) comes when the liquid ammonia mixes with hydrogen gas and evaporates producing cold inside the refrigerator. There are a few more steps involved to complete the cycle – read about them here. An interesting note about propane refrigerators is that there are no moving parts hence they tend to last a very long time. Eventually the continued cycle of heating and cooling of liquids into gases eventually had a corrosive effect on various parts. The Servel unit in question had probably been built sometime well before the 1950’s. Maybe in the 1930’s. Its time had come.
OK. So the Servel was now toast. The other Servel already was on its last legs and had no viable temperature control. Either it was off or freezing. We had lots and lots of food to preserve. While the food could be temporarily stored in the coolers that were used to transport food to the island, time was running out. And it’s not like we could ditch the food and rely on take-out. Wild berries and bits of boiled bark would only go so far.
Weighing all the options, Captain David boldly took charge and decided to purchase a (gasp) new refrigerator. Mind you, a new propane fridge ain’t cheap. Not by a long shot. And you may recall we’re on an island where everything and everyone on a good day, are 45 minutes away. And did I mention that major appliances are frickin’ heavy?
The long and the short of it: Captain and First Mate Hamel put forth a plan. It was conceived to have a new fridge delivered to Five Mile Dock where we (Captain David, Warren and yeoman Tom) would meet the delivery truck. The fridge would be loaded onto the Hamel speedboat, lashed down, and brought back to the island. The dealer supplying the fridge agreed to lend an appliance dolly. When one is selling a $4800 fridge, throwing in the use of a dolly seemed like the right thing to do, eh? You damn well betcha.
A couple of caveats: a) the 310-pound new fridge had to be transported at ALL times standing upright. Propane fridges are funny that way and, b) the now defunct Servel, having loyally served the Hamels and their guests for many years, had to be disposed of. The old Servel weighed about twice as much as the new fridge. Ouch.
On the day we were to collect the new fridge, the speedboat was made ready for transport. And wouldn’t you know, it was the one day we experienced rough weather during the whole week. As the stalwart crew set out for Five Mile Island in high winds, waves, and hopes, the womenfolk stayed behind to fret and worry. This had all the trappings of a gripping Hal Roth seafaring adventure (who probably never had to fetch a fridge in a speedboat). Yo ho ho.
Crashing through the waves, Captain David prudently reduced speed when the speedboat started doing bone jarring “Ka-whumps!” with each wave. It took a bit longer but we eventually came alongside the Five Mile Dock mooring just as a large flatbed truck pulled up with a spiffy new “Unique” brand propane fridge, all bundled in cardboard and strapped to a wooden pallet. The aforementioned appliance dolly was secured to the delivery. Mindful that the fridge needed to be upright, and with the help of the truck driver, we lowered the fridge off the flatbed truck to the dock. With the continued help of the driver, we carefully hoisted the fridge and lowered it into the (rocking) speedboat. The word “tippy” took on a new meaning. It also did not escape our attention that we had barely gotten the fridge into the speedboat with four grown men and that the driver would not be going back with us to the island.
After much lashing and tying, the fridge was deemed unlikely to move, and with the fridge safely in place, we sat on the dock and ate a hearty lunch the womenfolk had prepared. As the condemned men shoved off from the dock to make the return journey they hoped this would not be their last meal.
We now headed straight into the wind. That it was intermittently raining made no difference since water was coming up over the windshield. Warren and yeoman Tom stood valiantly alongside the vertical boxed fridge, which towered several feet over the height of the windshield, hanging on for dear life. Captain David and Warren agreed that perhaps a route that skirted the leeward side of the islands would be advisable. This required consulting several charts as the route would take us dangerously close to several narrows.
While Captain David piloted the craft, Warren and yeoman Tom kept a watchful eye out for marker buoys. At one point Captain David, over blowing wind and water, pointed to a spot on one of the charts and shouted, “Do you think we’re here?” Glancing quickly around at the various shorelines, yeoman Tom, who had never been on this particular point of the lake and who was not at all familiar with any of the visible landmarks, responded, “Yes, it seems to make sense to me”, realizing that Captain David was scheduled for cataract surgery the week following his return to Wisconsin. Yeoman Tom was mightily impressed that Captain David had consulted him since Yeoman Tom had never been in the Navy – he had been in the Army.
Fortunately for all concerned, the dealer who sold the Hamels the fridge just happened to motor by on his way to make another delivery of furniture using the same route. Captain David, recognizing a golden opportunity, gunned the engine and followed in the other boat’s wake. Not soon after, A-75 came into view. With much arm waving and smiles the womenfolk of A-75 welcomed the intrepid seafarers home. As it turned out this had been the easy part.