Sunday, May 9, 2010

All for Want of an “O” Ring

The winds were very shifty this morning. At one moment all was still and the next moment we could hear the halyards slamming against the mast of the boat, with a clang-clang, clang-clang, clang-clang. Then the wind would change, and the boat would start rocking side to side. The weather was holding up our travel plans for today. It was going to blow hard this afternoon and we didn't want to experience yet another force 8 wind scenario, but Monday was supposed to be perfect. Peter and I dined again in grand style in our floating RV, and we were contemplating maybe taking a walk up the mountain to have a look at the lighthouse just up the road and do some other relaxing stuff, but this was soon overtaken by another life lesson.

The Captain Peter noticed that the bilge pump wasn't sounding right so wanted to check it out. The bilge is the bottom of the inside of the boat were excess water collects, and the bilge pump is obviously to pump it out. Wayne and Carol came by and as usually when Captain Peter and Wayne get together, a synergy happens typical of two close friends. They rolled up their sleeves and the floor hatch was open and all was soon astir. The pump wouldn't work at first so we poured some water into the bilge and then this awful brown sludge was pumped into our yucky bucket. When oil and water mix the product becomes a brown sludge. How curious, then upon examining the hydraulic fluid reservoir level viewing glass, we found that it was completely empty, yikes!!

There obviously was a leak of some sort. So first thing was to replenish the hydraulic fluid. This was Sunday and what stores would be open that supply hydraulic fluid on a Sunday? Lo and behold, Peter and Wayne located some at the Canadian Tire in Antigonish a good 33 km away. They bought all that was left in stock of the type we needed which consisted of 7 – 4 litre (c.a.1 gallon) jugs. While they were away I starting trying to find the leak. I had some experience with hydraulics with my '67 backhoe so knew what to look for. A hydraulic system is really quite uncanny. It consists of a very strong oil pump that is turned by an engine and it pushes the hydraulic fluid at up to 3000 psi in a hose to a motor which is forced to turn by the fluid. 3000 psi is a lot when you consider that you car tire usually only has 30 psi or so. What is neat about that system is that you can put the motor anywhere in the boat and then just run a pair of flexible pressurized hydraulic hoses to the hydraulic motor that in this case is positioned on the end of the propeller shaft which it drives. A return hydraulic line then sends the lower pressurized oil back to a reservoir which then feeds the pump like in a loop.

But before the pressurized oil goes from the pump to the motor it goes into a directional control device which is like a switch in a way. This is operated by the lever at the helm that moves the boat forward or aft.

I checked the entire circuit and found a lot of spilled oil around directional control, so the area of the leak was located. The engineroom deck (floor) in which the equipment was located was completely covered by special oil-absorbing clothes that were completely saturated. Wayne and Captn returned with the fluid which we proceeded to pour into the reservoir and it all disappeared into the pipes and never yet appeared on the fluid level viewing tube. It looks like the entire system was empty.

We needed more, and based on my experience I recommended that they buy lots more, like two more 18 litre pails. By now we were tipped by others that Wally Mart might carry some and they did. After another trip to Antigonish we added about ¾ of a pailful or about 13 litres. Nothing leaked yet so it must leak when in operation, so we decided to do a test run just outside the harbour to put it through its paces. Sure enough when going forward a drip occurred at the bottom of the bidirectional control unit. It dripped at about 1 drip per second when going forward and 4 drips per second when in reverse. When switching from forward to reverse however the fluid streamed out of the unit. This confirmed the other findings. Wayne and Carol left for supper by now.

We really wanted to get a good early Monday morning start but now this. We could have just put a pan under the control unit and carefully monitor the reservoir level, but that was not a good solution, as the problem was not solved. The only other solution was to take the unit apart to carefully identify the source of the leak. There were four fat hoses that went to the control unit. Each hose was full of hydraulic oil which gushed out as we disconnected them. In the confined space it was not a pleasant or easy task. Many a time my legs fell asleep as I was carefully balancing on one knee. Capt. Peter then took over. This took the the rest of the evening to disconnect all the hoses. Finally we found the connector where the leak was evidently happening. The oil was slipping by a small 1 inch diameter “O” Ring. The ring must have become hardened with time and lost its flexibility. That is how we spent a Sunday evening.

Our plans are now delayed yet again by at least half a day now. We must replace the “O” ring before continuing and then reassemble all the hoses and reload all the lost hydraulic fluid before we can cast off.

I still have waypoints to prepare for tomorrows trip.

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