The Working Waterfront

When appliances fail on islands

The idea of convenience takes on new meaning

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2019-04-18
Last Modified 2019-04-18

By Barbara Fernald

Just before we were to leave for a family trip to Baltimore, the cooling fan broke in our oven. A call to Brown’s Appliance in Ellsworth confirmed that the whole back of the stove would have to come off to replace the broken part; not a DIY repair they could talk us through by phone.

The part would cost around $200. If a repair man came out, his labor fee would be $103 per hour. With commuting time by boat, we were talking about fixing a 16-year-old oven for around $700. We started to look for a new stove.

It’s a pain in the butt to have an appliance break down no matter where you live. The extra factors we consider in the Cranberry Isles can really throw a wrench in the works. Most stores will make a delivery to Northeast Harbor one or two days a week, but there is no free delivery to our zip codes.

If you don’t have your own boat in the water, or don’t know someone who is willing to help you pick up an appliance in their boat (in their spare time), you are at the mercy of the ferry schedule. The Beal and Bunker crew can be pretty accommodating if the tide is high and you’ve arranged for extra help in getting a heavy carton on and off the roof of the mailboat. 

David and Cindy Thomas have had more issues with appliances than any other island family I know. Several years ago, when they ordered a new dishwasher and stove, the dishwasher arrived first. On the first run it spilled water all over the floor. They paid to send it back off on the mailboat and asked the store to send the replacement dishwasher to Northeast Harbor to arrive with their new stove.

When the stove broke a year later a repairman came to the island to fix it at no charge. When it broke again a year after that, the store would not send anyone out to repair it. They bought a new stove from a different store that lasted all of five years.

When the compressor died on their refrigerator, David put the appliance in his island truck and barged the truck to the mainland for the repair. If you think coordinating a pick up from the mailboat is hard, try arranging for a barge. Sometimes a barge works with your schedule and sometimes you wait for days or weeks at a time to have your turn. 

Getting our new stove to the island actually went pretty smoothly. (Though as of this writing it is still sitting in the dining room awaiting a longer hose for the propane connection.)

The new stove, ordered from Home Depot, arrived at the store the same day we returned from Baltimore, but it had to be converted from natural gas to LP, something they don’t do at Home Depot. Bruce arranged to borrow a truck the next day to pick up the stove and take it to Coastal Energy to be converted.

It turned out that David was also going off island that day to pick up a new washing machine at Lowes, in Brewer. He was getting a ride home at high tide with Bruce’s brother Danny, who was taking his boat off island to pick up a new refrigerator that was being delivered from Brown’s. 

This is our third major appliance replacement in seven months. Last September our refrigerator died. We borrowed a truck and headed to Home Depot only to learn they will not sell you a floor model of any of their appliances.

Now, if your island refrigerator breaks down, give me a call. Several of us have dorm fridges and freezers on hand from going through the waiting-for-a-refrigerator scenario. 

Last July, on the day that our son and family were about to arrive for a week-long visit, our washing machine let go. We called Brown’s that afternoon and had a new washer headed our way the next morning. It was delivered in time for the noon boat and the tide was high.

Bruce went out fishing while our son Robin and his Uncle Paul moved the old washer to the transfer station. (It was a Thursday so they were open!) Paul and Robin picked up the new washer from the mailboat and had it installed before Bruce got home from a day of lobstering. It was all pretty slick.

There is never a convenient time for appliances to break down, but it turns out that if you live on an island, some times are actually more convenient than others. 

Barbara Fernald lives, writes, and makes jewelry on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).