July 30, 2019
The leak came from between the engine and the transmission and was black as coal. At its height, there were but five seconds between drips of this indispensable fluid, and upon arrival in Sisimiut, I found that we’d drained ten percent of the engine’s lube oil into the bilge in twenty hours.
“That’s a lot,” said my friend Gerd from his office in Florida. “It sounds like a rear seal failure; shouldn’t be too bad a job. First you remove the universal joint so you can push the propeller shaft back; then the bell housing and gearbox have to come off. Yours is about the size of a tea pot, so that should be easy. You may need to pull the starter motor and the alternator so you can get the fly wheel off …”
My head was spinning, “Fly wheel! But the leak is on the back of the engine and the flywheel is on the front! Why do I have to remove the flywheel?”
“Yes, I had forgotten,” replied Gerd, “Your Bukh engine is a real antique. Since about WWII, manufacturers have been putting the flywheel on the back of the engine. It prettier that way. The job wouldn’t take a mechanic more than three hours. But you must get it fixed. If that seal fails catastrophically in the Arctic, you’re in real trouble. Too bad your friend Jerry, the ‘marine insultant’ from St John’s, isn’t around,” he concluded.
By now I was rafted next to yellow-hulled Breskell inside the Sisimiut harbor breakwater. Her owner, Olivier, had discovered a diesel leak on his Perkins engine during his most recent passage, and we commiserated over the irony of it all! In St John’s, Jerry had repaired a rear seal leak on Olivier’s engine and a diesel leak on mine. Now we had each other’s problems, but no Jerry. How many flights a day come up from Newfoundland, we wondered?
“The job it is not hard,” said Olivier of his own oil leak repair. “I would do it, but Jerry wouldn’t let me. He just push me out of the way. ‘Go back to your woodwork,’ he said, ‘I will fix your damned engine.'”
I wrote to Victor, lamenting how far behind my original schedule I had fallen and asked for an ice update.
“There is no need to rush, Randall,” he responded. “Environment Canada isn’t reporting on the central parts of the Arctic yet. Solid ice. You have at least ten days. You must fix the problem. Your Bukh’s thermodynamics do not represent any kind of breakthrough and from what I can tell, the gearbox is held in place by one bolt. It should not be a complicated job.”
As to finding the part, each of the above men swore that engines use a limited line of seal sizes; the part would likely be in stock, even in Greenland.
All this encouragement, I was sure, would jinx the project.
Gearbox removal was a step out of my comfort zone, but I’d had the drivetrain apart a few times, and by noon the next day, the seal was in hand.
But this revealed a new problem: the seal looked to be in perfect condition. Could the diagnosis be wrong? I searched all over the underside of the engine for an alternate source of escaping oil.
“Me too!” said Olivier, slapping me on the back so hard I spilled the coffee he’d poured for me.
“But Jerry, he said you cannot tell by looking if a seal is good. The rubber becomes brittle with age and the little retaining spring, it gets weak. These things you cannot see with two eyes.”
The only possible source of a new seal in Sisimiut was a shop on the edge of town that repaired outboards and snowmobiles, not marine diesels. Here I arrived in the early afternoon. Without a word, I drew the seal from my pocket and held it before the woman at the counter, and without a word she took it and disappeared up a flight of stairs. For far too long I could hear her rummaging through boxes. My heart sank.
When she reappeared, she carried a large box full of seals, and we rummaged together.
Five minutes later, I had a new seal of the correct size in hand. We found but one in the whole box. By noon the next day, the engine was back together and running, leak free, under load.
During the whole exercise, I encountered not one seized bolt.
Post Script: Finding a seal was critical, so before commencing the search, I had emailed Vincent on aluminum yacht, Alioth, asking if he would be available to source a seal in Nuuk before he departed north. Without replying, Vincent jumped in a cab and found a seal at about the same time that I did. When Alioth arrived in Sisimiut the next day, I was gifted with a spare rear seal, thanks to Vincent.