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The Art of Ice-ing

Life on the hook brings new challenges of all sorts.  Among these include the no-small-task of keeping things cold.
Yuck! The beer is warm, and what' s that horrid smell? What happened to all that ice we put in this icebox a few days ago? For boaters trying to keep their milk and steaks from spoiling and their drinks cold, having enough of the right type of ice is as essential as wearing foul-weather gear in an storm. Ice is a slippery quirk of nature produced whenever and wherever water freezes
lacy snowflakes, piercing pellets of sleet, shiny daggers of icicles, and treacherous roadways. We can discipline water' s amorphous ways by placing it in a container and allowing it to freeze into useable shapescubes or convenient size blocksthat work for us, instead of against us.

There are several means of cooling food and beverages, but water-based ice is the most common. It is available, nontoxic, and doesn't require power to produce cold. Until we owned a boat, we took ice for granted. Now we know where all the ice machines are located, and we grumble regularly about hauling around gargantuan loads of it. Ice seems so substantial in its solid form that we like to think it will stay that way forever. It almost seems weird that to stay cold, ice has to be kept cold; well-insulated carry bags, coolers, and ice chests will assure this. The farther we travel with ice, the more attention we need to pay to keeping it solid, so be prepared to pamper it for trips of any length.

Selecting and Using Ice   Although most ice sold in the US comes encased in plastic bags, foreign countries often supply it au naturel. Buying ice is like buying air; it will trickle through your fingers like money at a mall. Opt for frosty cubes or blocks "smoking" with cold air. If the ice looks slick and shiny or has a watery surface, it has already begun to melt and will not last long. In the US, five-pound packages of block ice or bagged cubes are most popular. Larger quantities will stay frozen longer, due to their greater mass, but are more difficult to manage. Beware of buying ice from a fishing port, where it is used to chill fish, since it may have been delivered through a hose as slush and may contain chemicals. When in doubt about the potablilty of ice, ask. You won't be able to purify it through a special filter, as you might with water, before whirling it in the blender for pina coladas.

The same principles that govern icebergs apply to the ice in your icebox—it lasts longest in block form.
Cubes on the Loose
Ice in cube form is fabulous for quick-cooling cans or bottles of soda, beer, or other beverages. Dumped out of their bag, loose cubes will snuggle into crevices around cans and bottles, replacing the warm air around them with cold. However, loose cubes melt more quickly than bagged cubes or blocks because their many small surface areas draw heat and before long, your chilled goods will be enjoying a bath. A portable cooler that can be easily drained is the most practical application for loose cubes. Should you free ice cubes to socialize with your groceries, package labels will get soggy and slide off and sensitive fruits and vegetables will be offended. If used to help cool down a freezer, loose cubes may melt together and refreeze, blanketing the contents with a shelf of ice that will be need to be chipped away or defrosted.

Cubes in a Bag   In most cases, it's sensible to leave ice cubes in their plastic bags, where they will be under control and keep each others cold. If you've obtained naked cubes, protect their modesty by bagging them yourself in plastic, of course.  Place bags of cubes near the top of the cooler where they will be accessible whenever you need to snag a few for drinks. A jab or two with an ice pick will loosen cubes that have stuck together. All the while, the remaining ice will work to keep your goodies properly chilled. Remember that each time you lift the lid or open the door to your icebox, warm air will rush in to greet your cubes. If you are hosting a party and need to frequently retrieve ice, remove an extra bag to another cooler, ice bag, ice bucket, or the galley sink.

"A five-pound block of ice will last four times longer than the same weight in cubes."

Blocks    A five-pound block of ice will last four times longer than the same weight in cubes. When you handle ice, leave blocks in their plastic bags to prevent your fingers from being glued to it. If you must remove the bag, use gloves or ice tongs to manage block ice safely. Place blocks at the bottom of the icebox on top of wooden or stainless steel gratings to keep them from sitting in water, which absorbs the cold and escalates meltdown.  Ice blocks are non-conformists. To coax them into place, use an ice pick to chip at their corners so they will rest flat at the base of your icebox. Block ice is a nuisance for drinks, unless you enjoy chopping ice into shards. For a prolonged stay aboard, a combination of blocks and cubes works best to maintain cold in an icebox; the blocks for long-lasting cold, and the cubes for dual-purpose chilling and personal use.

How much ice you need will be a function of carrying capacity, how long you plan to be gone, and the availability of ice in your sailing grounds.
How much Ice?  
It takes a consistent 40 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain food safely. As a coolant, ice is dependable until it performs its magic act and converts back to water. The capacity of an icebox and its degree of insulation determine the length of time you can rely on ice to hold a desired box temperature. It's particularly important to monitor your internal icebox temperature during warm weather. Experiment to determine how best to manage the ice supply for your particular unit by keeping track of the amount of ice needed to attain a consistent 40 degrees, as well as when and how you need to replenish your ice supply for a stay aboard.

This is what works for us, based on a 12-cubic-foot  top-loading icebox.

  • If we are just aboard for the day, one bag of cubes gets us through, unless we indulge in blender cocktailsthese are ice-cube hogs.
  • On short or weekend-length stays, we begin with one block and two bags of ice cubes, and then add one bag of cubes per day.
  • On stays lasting a week or more, we start with two blocks of ice and two bags of cubes, and supplement with a new bag of cubes each day. Typically, we need to add a fresh block of ice every couple of days.

Ice blocks are the mainstay of consistent cooling, so it's important to check on their progress each day. Your icebox may require more or less ice than ours. When the refrigeration system on our current boat died, we were appalled to find it took as many as six, five-pound bags of ice (two blocks and four cubes) to restore the cold. (Always remember that every refrigerator was born an icebox.) Pay attention, and before long you'll be adept at estimating the life span of a block or bag of ice in your unit and will know how much ice you require.

When the bounty of the sea comes for a visit, the choice is yours—have a strategy to keep it cold, or begin a cooking frenzy.
Make your Own
If you decide you'll pack up cubes or blocks made at home you should fill zip-locked plastic bags with ice cubes for their ride to the boat. Stuff bags as full as possible, squeezing out excess air before sealing. You can make your own "ice blocks" by freezing water bottled in plastic, purchased from the grocery store. Reuse empty jugs or bottles by first washing them thoroughly, then refilling them with fresh drinking water. Remember that water expands as it freezes, so leave some space at the top of a container before capping it.

Also, zippered plastic freezer bags are sturdy enough to fill with water and freeze. Fill the bags leaving some air at the top, seal, and then lay them flat in the freezer to solidify. Frozen jugs and ice bags can ride to the boat in the cooler and be transferred into the icebox aboard your boat. Set frozen jugs of water at the bottom of a cooler or icebox as you would ice blocks. Tuck in smaller bottles or bags wherever you can, grouping them for more effectiveness. Pour off melted ice water for drinking or cooking.

So you see, ice isn't as slippery as you think. You can learn to use it effectively to keep food and drinks fresh and cold as long as you stay one block ahead of the game.

Joy Smith is offline  
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