Our return to the UK took far longer than we had planned. Two cancelled flights didn't help the situation but finally we have returned aboard Flirtie, yearning for new adventures ahead. We had planned to leave after we'd run through our usual start of season check list but Flirtie had other ideas by surprising us with a couple of issues.
The first was seized steering sheaves. They were corroded solid. We recall that when we took ownership of Flirtie some 7 years ago, we found leaks coming from two anti-syphon valves that reside above the steering mechanism so we assume that this original leak is responsible for the now seized sheaves. We could have probably coated the steering cables in copious amounts of grease to enable them to slide around the sheaves but our conscience wouldn't allow it. Thankfully sourcing the bearings in a timely manner wasn't an issue however we did have to get creative in finding ways to remove the corroded ones. Our determination and perseverance paid off and within a few hours we had removed and replaced four bearings.
one of the corroded bearings - there are four to be removed, two on each sheave
completed job with four new bearings added to two Whitlock sheaves
The next issues was far more serious, a leak coming from one of the shaft seals. Both port and starboard seals were dry before we returned to the UK but upon our return we found a slow but steady drip coming from the port side. Under load the drip frequency increased somewhat. Any thoughts we had about hopping over to Malta to be lifted had to be shelved with us now having to rely on the services of the boatyard here in Marina di Ragusa that over the years of us being here has unfortunately acquired an appalling reputation for time management. We had no alternative but to wait for a lift and hope they would do a good job in a timely manner given that working on your own boat is not allowed in this particular yard. However when the day came, for reasons unknown to us, the foreman gave us permission to do the job ourselves (possibly because we had told them that we had experience of replacing the seals and happy to do the job ourselves). We were surprised, shocked and elated that we could work on our girl. Flirtie was lifted, chocked up then we were left to it. Everything went to plan with Flirtie being relaunched that same day. There was even time to polish the props and inspect the antifoul that we applied one year ago which is performing as expected.
new seal added to port side shaft - just starboard side to do now
According to the literature, the life of our particular shaft seals is 5 years or 500 hours whichever is sooner. We last replaced these seals in March 2015 in Portugal so we've exceeded the 5 years. We've also exceeded the 500 hours because the shafts continuously rotate whether under engine or under sail. This problem has definitely caught us out and has required an additional lift which has cost us dearly in both time and money. The perfect solution in our particular set up would be to replace the existing fixed three bladed propellers to folding or feathering propellers as they would immediately reduce wear not only on the shaft seals but on the gearbox too. There's also the potential that Flirtie would gain a knot or two in speed whilst under sail and as an additional bonus we, the crew would finally be rid of the annoying whirling noise that occurs when Flirtie exceed 4 knots. Unfortunately though, unless our existing fixed props somehow fall off or disintegrate in some astonishing way the idea will have to remain a dream due to cost.
Out of curiosity we cut the failing shaft seal in half to see the extent of the wear. Surprisingly it was in very good order and only when we compared it with the new shaft seal could we see that the two lip seals were not standing as proud, the result being less pressure on the propeller shaft and the leak. The rubber was all in good order and showing no signs of deterioration so in an emergency we could certainly and safely add a hose clip or similar in the area of the lip seals as long as we could find a way of securing the shaft from rotating.
a cross section of the volvo seal
Despite the yards reputation we can say that our experience was excellent with good communication, a timely lift and relaunch.