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Summer In Florida – 90+ Degree Days / 80+ Degree Evenings

With summer in Florida the usual strategy for most sensible sailors is to install an air conditioner unit. Some go to great lengths to have beautiful, efficient inboard water-cooled A/C units, which result in pleasant and inviting interiors. Others manipulate small 6000 BTU window A/C units using a host of different ingenious installation methods. These too work well on most boats. The best installations I have seen usually occur when mounted by removing the lower hatch boards. Many (as I tried) install window units over their forward hatch, however these do require a jig-saw of patches to keep them from leaking (a real eye-sore and annoying to remove).

Then there is the “very” small boat owner. Limited locker space makes the installation of a  fancy built-in unit difficult and small companion doors impede window units. Yup, thats me aboard Wookie. A 20 foot sailboat with a cozy but small cabin and limited locker space.

So what “facts” did I consider in attempting to give myself enough reprieve from the heat to get a decent nights sleep in the summer?

Firstly, I acknowledged I only need to be cooled 4 months a year. The rest of the time here in Florida the evenings are extremely pleasant. During those months the evening thunderstorms (which are real thunder-boomers) require me to close hatches and ports so it gets oppressively hot. If its not raining and ports, hatches are open then its not “that bad” with small fans circulating cabin air.

Secondly, I need something that is easily stored when not in use and simple to remove when wanting to go sailing.

Thirdly, I only need something to cool the boat down between 8pm and 10pm. Before that I am normally running about and/or out to dinner (in the summer I don’t bother cooking aboard as its too hot). Awnings on the boat are very important as are several small strong fans. The fans work quite well during day time hours and occasionally need to be slowed down a bit in the evening. If the boat cools down 5 to 10 degrees then the fans circulate that air and its normally bearable.

Finally, I just need to “suck-it-in” and use this as an opportunity to enjoy the adventure of surviving the heat. A state of mind I find enjoyable. This mental exercise is not that difficult and is nothing unusual when one remembers that years ago many survived without air conditioning around here. Bottom line – an opportunity to toughen up.

Wookie’s Summer Awnings



My design of a swamp cooler is nothing new. One can buy these in varying sizes that range in price from $20 up to $500+. They are normally a cooler (or chilly bin for my mates in New Zealand) with a fan that draws air into the ice cooler, which flows over ice and escapes through a vent.

What “might” make mine unique is I made a lid to fit over my sink hence no need for a chilly bin. I dump the ice into my sink and a fan on the lid draws air over this ice, which is cooled and flows and out of a vent (cheap PVC piping).

I note Wookster works well in a very SMALL boat interior. However, one needs to be patient for 15 to 30 minutes to allow cooling to take effect. You can use a faster fan but then you will need more ice. I normally button up the boat, set up the swamp cooler and start the fan. I then saunter off to take my evening shower. When I return the boat has cooled down and I turn on my other fans. Then its time for bed.


1- The ice melts and it drains out of my sink thru-hull (no messy water to discard). If I want to keep the water I just shut my seacock.

2- I can also use ice, which has melted in my ice-box if it is still cold by pumping this into my sink. My swamp cooler then circulates cold air. This means dual use of the ice especially if I am sailing. With a 12-volt case cooling fan I can use the ice water at anchor after a hot days sail to cool the boat down a bit. Who says a small boat can’t have A/C at anchor…….

3-As condensation occurs on the bottom of my sink due to the heat in the cabin, I normally set a soft cooler in the sink to hold the ice. I found this gives me more time with less ice and limits any condensation. If the condensation persists I found an old towel folded below the sink catches the few drops that occur. I work diligently at keeping my bilge dry.

4-Two to three hours of cooling only requires between 5 to 10 pounds of ice. This is a normal bag of ice sold at the grocery store or the marina.

5-My swamp cooler was cheaper than the good ones of $500+ and a lot better than the inexpensive ones (I wasted my money on several of these). In the end it cost me less than $40 to make the Wookster. This included supplies for my childish attempt at creative artwork. Ice for 4 months for the swamp cooler is approximately $250.

6-For me — it works and I had fun making it.

Photos – The Creation Of The Wookster Swamp Cooler




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