What Lurks Within

November 19, 2015: Have you ever had a can of soda burst? No, not the wild spray that happens when some unsuspecting soul opens a can that someone shook around violently. I’m talking cans that just gush for no apparent reason.

It has become something of a regular occurrence on MOKEN and I don’t like it.

One time, a can of Coke burst in the pantry. Luckily it was mostly contained in a plastic bin, but it still was a sticky mess. On the heels of that one, I set an intact can of Schweppes tonic on the counter top during the cleanup. A couple days later, there was a ring perfectly (and permanently) etched into the counter top. I was so angry at the time. Still am kinda, if I’m being really honest. Just imagine what that stuff does to your stomach lining and your teeth.

Not every mess was unprovoked. Another time, I used a sharp knife to cut open a carton and ended up slicing right into one can just like it was butter. That made a huge mess of the pantry and altered my plans for the next couple of hours.

Obviously, I didn’t learn from these incidents.

In one of my reorganization spurts, I decided to move all of our beverages from the pantry into the unused chest freezer to make room for a few appliances we don’t use all the time, like the toaster, slow cooker, wok and even the coffee maker, which doesn’t get used when Chris isn’t on board. I realize that’s hard for all of you die-hard coffee addicts to comprehend, but I’m a tea drinker. The kettle is always waiting on top of the stove.

The freezer was just sitting there empty, so I decided it would be the perfect place for beverage stowage, with the added bonus that we could turn it on and have chilled beverages if we so desired. In went the soda, the Clamato, the fruit juices and the beer. In the meantime, our everyday freezer needs are more or less adequately met by the little freezer compartment in the galley fridge. At least until we need to be a bit more self sufficient on longer crossings where we’ll be far away from restaurants, grocery stores and markets.

In hindsight, it was not a wise decision. At some point in time between the last time I opened the freezer to retrieve some beverages (likely in May) and the first time I opened it again after the trip to Canada (early September), there was a party in our freezer. Seven cans had erupted. Yes, SEVEN! The culprits were not even from the same family. There was Coke, a Calamansi soda, Schweppes tonic and Schweppes soda water. The one thing they did have in common was that they were all thin walled cans produced locally. Our (imported) Canada Dry ginger ale survived unscathed.

But it wasn’t just the mess this time. It was the sweet musty smell. And worse of all, the black mould. Ewww!

(Mould, not mold! We’s Canadian and follow the British spelling adding extra U’s in words like neighbour, harbour, colour and mould. None of that anemic, U-less Americanization for us.)

I immediately gagged and then set to work on the cleanup. First, I got a bucket and started pulling everything out of the freezer. Each item went into the bucket and was carried to the sink and given a good scrub in soapy water. All of the offenders went into the garbage, along with any other suspicious looking characters. The innocent victims were stashed away. Mostly into the fridge.

It was now time to tackle the inside of the freezer. I thought I took a couple of photos of the carnage, but these have since vanished. Needless to say it was yucky. You can see from the clean photo of the freezer that there are lots of nooks and crannies for mould and liquid gunge to hide. I pulled out all of the metal grates (some were screwed in place) and washed them in hot soapy water. Then I mopped up all the sticky mess from the bottom of the freezer. That was followed by a soapy water wash of all the accessible surfaces inside with a bleach follow-up (or two). I wasn’t totally happy yet because there was still mould trapped behind the freezer plates but I didn’t feel comfortable taking everything apart without letting Chris take a peek at it first.

When Chris returned to MOKEN later in September we looked inside and he gave me the go ahead to disassemble everything. But it had to wait. The freezer is located right in the way of access to the area where Chris keeps many of his tools and hardware. With other pressing boat projects on the go during his time off, the final attack on the remaining mould was put on hold until Chris went back to work again last month. In the meantime, I kept it locked up tight to keep the mould spores trapped inside.

Finally, I was able to unscrew the freezer plates from the walls. I had to be careful not to damage the thin wires connecting them, which looked like they were insulated by blue and white plastic drinking straws. I cautiously cleaned the walls and wires, hoses and plates before reassembling everything. Somehow I ended up with one screw left. It was too big to fit any of the holes. Perplexing.

It was an interesting science experience. When I left for Canada, the boat was closed up and the freezer was left closed. As I discovered when I first opened the freezer on my return, it was really hot inside. The TV show Mythbusters debunked rumours that soda cans will explode if left inside a hot car, but there are lots of reported incidents. I suppose if cans are weakened in some way, they really cannot stand the heat.

And then there is the mould, a fungus that grows well in damp conditions in poorly ventilated areas. We obviously had the perfect environment for exponential growth.

What I learned from this experience (and other tips gleaned online as I was researching this blog post):

  1. Mould spores are everywhere. They’re just waiting for the right conditions to grow: moisture, organic material to feed on and poor ventilation. Boats are the perfect environment, especially in the tropics where humidity is high.
  2. The two main ways to prevent mould from growing onboard are to reduce relative humidity and increase ventilation.
  3. Install a hygrometer to measure relative humidity.
  4. Increase ventilation. Don’t leave spaces locked up tight. Use our fans and open porthole windows, hatches and doors. Tip up mattresses to allow air to get underneath. (We have exhaust fans in the heads which we run when we shower and an exhaust fan over the stove which we use when we’re cooking. We try to keep some portholes open all the time and open the pilothouse doors during the day whenever we’re onboard. We have a Hypervent pad under the mattress we sleep on but we probably should be more diligent at tipping up the cockpit cushions, salon and pilothouse cushions and mattresses in the forward berths every once in a while. Or setting them out in the sun every now and again. We also get mould growing in the lockers on deck if they haven’t been opened up and aired out regularly, especially during the rainy season. That reminds me. Tomorrow I should open up the deck lockers and air them out.)
  5. Our air conditioners can help keep humidity in check. (This one I already knew but now I feel less guilty for using it so much. You’d be surprised how much condensation our air conditioner can produce in a day.)
  6. Clean air conditioner drip pans every now and then and keep our sump tanks covered. (Our new sump reservoirs are covered, but we used to leave the old ones uncovered to get easy access to clean the pumps when they got all gummy. Oops.)
  7. Consider using a dehumidifier when we lock up the boat and leave it for extended periods of time.
  8. Wipe up water spills immediately and keep on the lookout for any signs of water ingress.
  9. Don’t hang laundry inside to dry. (You might wonder why I would even mention this when I live in the tropics and our clothes are usually dry in about 20 minutes when hung outside. Despite that, I actually have been hanging our laundry in the pilothouse to dry recently because the marina doesn’t want us hanging it outside. It’s unsightly. Sometimes I still hang it outside. I’m such a rebel.)
  10. Toss out any mouldy papers (including books) and immediately wash and thoroughly dry any mouldy fabrics.
  11. I probably should have worn a mask when I cleaned the mould from the freezer. Mould spores can be toxic and cause health problems or allergic reactions.
  12. Don’t use a damp cloth to clean up mould. Instead, scrub with a 10 per cent bleach solution using a brush. Rinse and dry the area thoroughly. (I wish I’d read this before I put the freezer back together again. Another oops. Apparently my rag may have been feeding the mould.)
  13. Don’t buy soda. It makes me fat, it’s bad for my teeth and now I have to worry about messy ruptures on MOKEN.
  14. If I must buy soda, only buy the good quality aluminum cans or plastic bottles. Don’t buy soda that comes in the paper thin cans. (While I realize there are environmental reasons to avoid cans and bottles altogether, I have at least learned that most of this stuff does get recycled down the line despite a lack of official recycling programs here in the Philippines. Unless it winds up drifting in the ocean, that is.)
  15. If I really, really must buy soda, don’t buy too much at one time. Only buy as much as fits in the fridge or we will likely drink in a short window of time. (I think some of the cans that ruptured may have been on MOKEN for some time, and may have been knocked around on some of our rougher boating adventures. How do I know? We don’t drink Coke and hardly ever touch tonic water, so it’s likely the offending cans were bought ages ago when we had friends on board who did.)

Resources:
Mould and Your Health
Tips for Keeping Boat Mould at Bay

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