Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong
In part 2 of this article we had dropped anchor in Sydney, around 400 NM into the 3,200 NM delivery trip from Brisbane to Perth. Over a month was spent in Sydney effecting repairs. This part of the article, which takes us from Sydney to Perth may well turn out to be slightly fictional since I was not aboard. I reluctantly had to leave Venilia with skipper and crew and get back to work in Perth due to the very long delays caused by some less than honest estimates from the mechanics dealing with rebuilding Venilia’s starter motor.
Everything in here is from a number of phone conversations with the crew, some emails and the log entries.
Oil in the Bilge
More often than not, the bilge area of a boat is a kind of dirty secret that you don’t want anyone to know about out of fear that it may tarnish their opinion of your lovely boat, that you work so hard to maintain through countless hours of polishing stainless steel doodads and cleaning seagull poop off the decks. One of the very impressive things about Venilia when I was inspecting her before purchase was the amazingly clean bilges. I mean seriously, spotlessly clean, no water, no oil, nothing. The bilge was as clean as the rest of the boat. Even the engine itself was spotless, no greasy bits, no soot, all sparkling clean. Seriously, no engine could be that clean. In retrospect, I guess this should have set off an alarm bell, but at the time it did not. I now know that the reason for all this impressive cleanliness, is that someone did a big clean up before my visit.
Some oil leaks became evident on the trip down from Brisbane to Sydney, nothing drastic, rather just annoying due to the mess in the bilge. After around 35 hours running time, I had to mop up around 2 to 3 litres of oil once the anchor was down. Given the engine is a Gardner, which are well known for their inability to keep their oil sealed up inside, it was no major concern and I simply decided to clean up, get her to Perth by topping up as needed, and investigate all in due course. The oil sump of Venilia’s Gardner 5LW contains 18 litres, so really it was no big deal.
3 days out of Sydney, just as the crew were rounding the south-east corner of Australia, the leak seemed to get far more serious and the skipper wisely decided not to take on the Bass Strait. He turned back for Eden where a mechanic would be able to inspect and if needed repair.
Further to the new oil leak issue, the battery charging issue which was thought to have been resolved, was not and the batteries were running dangerously low from the 3 days at sea already. In Sydney, we determined that the charging issue was because the alternator was not wired to charge the house batteries, and corrected this foolishly thinking that the issue would be fixed. It turns out there was more to it than just the wiring, and the batteries were still getting no charge.
In Eden, the crew got the mechanic on board, who investigated the engine and told them that they were worrying over nothing, the oil in the bilge was most certainly just a deteriorating gasket and as long as they kept the oil kept up, they could keep going. He also looked at the alternator, determined that it was fine, and the reason the batteries were not charging was simply because the crew were not running the engine fast enough for it to kick in. A Gardner engine is a good old fashioned slow revving diesel, and with crew babying it due to the oil leak, they were simply not spinning the alternator fast enough.
All in all, good news, the trip could continue. So the crew cleaned up the bilge again, and when the weather was right, set sail.
Diesel in the Bilge
Crossing the Bass Strait and then the Great Australian Bight turned out rather uneventful. Progress was slow, but steady with no major issues if it wasn’t for the ongoing problem getting some charge into the batteries. Despite running the engine faster than previously as recommended by the mechanic in Eden, there was still nothing going into the batteries other than the small amount provided by Venilia’s 2 small solar panels. This meant limiting use of everything electrical including the autopilot making this part of the trip quite exhausting.
Having decided to use the wind present and make straight for Albany bypassing Esperance to make up a little for the slow progress, the crew were 120NM past Esperance when they had a look in the engine room to find the bilge flooded with 120 litres of diesel this time. @#&$%! >:(
Quick investigation and they found something called a “fuel suction air chamber” had unscrewed itself from the injector pump and dropped into the bilge leaving the injector pump free to pump the contents of the diesel tank into the bilge along with it. It was a quick fix to screw the chamber thingy back in place, but, being already on the low side fuel wise before this happened, the skipper again wisely decided to play it safe and head back for Esperance to clean up and refuel.
LOTS of Oil in the Bilge
After leaving Esperance, now in the home stretch with only 260NM to go to Mandurah, spirits were high both on board and in Mandurah were we were very impatiently waiting for Venilia’s arrival.
Tuesday, 22 March 2016, 1130 Hrs 35 13 S, 116 38 S, 10 Nm South of Point Nuyts. Around 190 Nm from Busselton or 260 Nm to Mandurah. Murphy is still doing his best! Only just managed to get passed Albany but the engine decided to dramatically increase oil consumption. So out of oil pretty much as well as power. Bugga! Will try to update when able tomorrow. Hope for some clear skies for the solar panels tomorrow.
In the end, all is well
As I write this final paragraph about the delivery trip several months later, I have had time to investigate and deal with the issues which it turns out, were really very minor considering this was Venilia’s first real blue water trip.
The oil leak which was probably the most concerning issue at the time turned out to be two things. First, we were using the wrong oil. Since I received no handover of the boat from the previous owner, I had to make some calls on things without really knowing what I was doing. Before leaving Brisbane, I went down to the auto shop to pick up some oil for the trip, and relying on information given by the pimply 17 year old shop assistant, purchased some high quality (10W40) synthetic oil for diesel engines. Synthetic oil is a designer product. It has the amazing property of being able to act like a low viscosity oil when cold (10W) and a high viscosity oil when hot (40), meaning that it remains very fluid, even when the engine is cold. This is all well and fine in modern engines with tolerances measured in nano-meters, but in old fashioned English steel like our Gardner where tolerances were measured by pouring warm treacle into the assembled engine and looking for tell-tale sticky trails on the outside (I made that up), it causes trouble. This engine was designed in the days of monograde oils which are as thick as runny tar when cold and just right when hot. The second issue was that on close inspection, I located 3 small threaded holes on the top of the crank case where at some point in the past something was bolted on. I suspect it may have been a name plate or something like that. Obviously, holes in a crank case are not ideal when you want to keep the oil inside said crank case.; that was easily fixed.
In the past few months, we have come leaps and bounds and are blown away with just how great this boat is. There are obviously plenty of required upgrades before we take on any big oceans, but all very manageable. Can’t wait!!!
Mechanic, electrician, carpenter, plumber, upholsterer, rigger, author, painter, sailmaker, navigator, meteorologist and captain of the S.V. Venilia.