Another Maintenance Opportunity

Luganville (again again again – Lucky we love it here)

August 2023

After a very pleasant stay at Port Olry, we left for Ambae Island on the morning of Sunday 20th August.  Our intention was to do an 8hr run to the east end of the island.  But 3 hrs out our plans changed again (good thing we have learnt to be flexible).  Peter came up from one of his regular engine checks to announce he thought we had a bit of a problem. 

[His engine room check involves shooting the temperature with a sweet little gizmo that looks like a gun and shoots out a red laser.  He records the temperature for about 10 spots (always at the same places); engine block, transmission, turbo, shaft etc.  As part of the inspection, he also checks for unusual smells and any leaks. Doing this on a regular schedule means he can hopefully pick up any problems early, before they become a major issue.]

He had spotted a leak from the coolant cap, not a major issue, but what was of concern was that the leaking coolant had oil in it – and it really shouldn’t.

Coolant shouldn’t look like a choccy milk-shake

He’d quickly worked out what the problem was.   The coolant that keeps the engine running at a nice 86o also keeps the transmission oil cool.  This is done by having the hot transmission oil passing through a dedicated heat exchanger in the coolant circuit.  The oil and coolant are kept separated by two O-rings. Peter had read about these O-rings failing after a number of years of service, and that looked like what was happening here.

To minimise any risk to the transmission we needed to fix this issue before water got into the transmission oil.  So, we changed course by 90o and headed South-West back to Luganville, where we would have access to better facilities. One bright spot was that among the many spares we carry on ‘Opal Lady’, was a set of O rings for the oil cooler unit.  [‘Opal Lady’ is 14 years old and we are expecting some of her systems to start requiring more maintenance, so we try to be ready for these eventualities.  And as we have never done anything to the heat exchanger, other than keep it painted nicely white, we really shouldn’t complain about it failing].

Aside from knowing we were going in the wrong direction, the run down to Luganville was nice and smooth. Enroute Peter got in touch with Paul on Aore Island about availability of his moorings, as we would prefer somewhere relatively calm to do the repairs.  Fortunately, a mooring would be free the following day.  So, after a quiet night anchored in front of the Beachfront Resort on Santo, we headed over to Aore the next morning and picked up a mooring.

To ensure that we would be back on the cruise to Ambae Island as quickly as possible, Peter whipped up his usual works plan.  The manager just never retired.

One of our big concerns was sourcing suitable coolant.  We kept a supply on board for topping up, but it wouldn’t be enough for this job.  Once the oil cooler was repaired, the whole engine cooling circuit would need to be flushed to remove any oil-contamination and then refilled with fresh coolant.  To our very pleasant surprise, we found exactly what we needed at the main hardware store in Luganville.  The funny thing about this is that we struggle to get this ‘old tech’ coolant formulation back in Australia, but it is all that is available here – funny world, but we’ll take the win. With all the 5l containers of coolant and distilled water ferried back to ‘Opal Lady’ (it took a few trips), Peter started the process of repairing the oil cooler.

The O ring on the left is the old one.  It is quite deformed and very stiff (which is why it was leaking).

The other problem that we came across was that the only gasket paper we had on board was too thin for this job.  We could use gasket goo, we certainly had enough tubes of that on board for emergencies, but sometimes you just want to do the job properly.  Paul directed us to Kevin at Santo Engineering.  We are talking old school engineering shop here, just like walking into my Dad’s shed; it was a chaotic wonderland of stuff.  After Peter explained the problem to Kevin, he wandered off behind some dusty shelving and came back with a strip of gasket board that was just what we needed.  Not only that, but because we needed such a small piece, he gave it to us for free. How’s that for service!

Now I get to do some Arts N Craft therapy making a new gasket.  This is not quite what I imagined the scalpel blades in the trauma box being used for, but it worked at treat.

This is the oil cooler after Peter had pulled it apart and cleaned it up. Apart from the old O-rings, it was in pretty good condition.

Peter took a few days to complete the whole process as he had not done this before, and was being very careful to get it right. Once everything was back together, we spent the following day flushing the engine (a long process explained in detail in Tech Talk 5).  We were both very happy when that job was finished and we could fill the cooling system up with 30 litres of new coolant.

In the meantime, Paul had let us know that he had some spots available for reef dives, so with the serious job out of the way, we headed off on ‘Full Boar’, the dive boat for Aore Island Adventure Sports and Lodge.

The first dive was to see a Gorgonian Garden.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling quite right when we got in the water, so I told Peter to go ahead without me.  The dive was a drift along the northern edge of Aore Island at about 30m.  He came back raving about the Gorgonians down there, some of which were up to 3m in size, and the Ramoras that followed him for the whole dive. 

Peter tried to get some decent photos to show me.  But at that depth you really need to have an extra light, and for us that is usually the buddy diver’s torch (but this time she was enjoying a nice chat with Paul in the dive boat).

Black and White Crinoids on a Gorgonian Fan. These gorgeous looking things are animals, although they look for all the world like a flower.

Shine some light on the Gorgonian and you can see its true colour is bright red.

After a morning tea that was more like a full lunch; salad wrap, fresh fruit and yoghurt, and banana cake (yummy yummy and yummy) we popped around the corner of Aore Island to dive off Bokissa Island.  We didn’t take the camera, so that I only had to concentrate on the dive and Peter could enjoy exploring (so no pics).  I have never seen anything like it and the coral was quite different.  We were floating over large fields.  And each field was of a different coloured staghorn coral; pink, blue, lime green and a lovely shade of caramel.  It was like looking at a lavender farm; only underwater and in more than just shades of purple.  A stunning and most relaxing dive.

Back to the boat and another boat job before we head off again.

If Mum ever loses Dad…

She just has to follow the cat. I like to keep my paw on the quality of the maintenance on ‘Opal Lady’.

To check that the coolant system was back to working properly, we did a quick run and anchored at Aese Island for the night.  This time the beach was full of families having a party.  There were lots of kids swimming and playing tug of war games, and an impressive bonfire in the evening.

After topping up the coolant in the morning, we were ready to continue our trip to Ambae Island.

Boat Works:

Replaced seals on oil cooler for turbo.   Cleaned coolant system and replaced coolant.

Main toilet has stopped working properly (not sure why yet), so we will be using the manual guest toilet until we can sort it out. Good to have a boat with build it redundancies in most of her systems.

Navigation Notes:

[This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a StarLink satellite system. Dates are in standard Australian format DD/MM/YYYY. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level depth).]

Anchored Luganville (opposite Beachfront Resort): 20/08/2023, at 15 31.343S, 167 09.965E, in 5.5m water with ~0.8m tide, 30m chain, exit 180o.  Winds WSW 5knt.

Moored Aore Island: 21/08/2023, at 15 32.119S, 167 10.959E, in 33.8m water.  Middle of 3 moorings, directly off the jetty.  A fourth mooring further east was being installed while we were there.  Mooring owned by Aore Island Adventure Sports and Lodge, contact Paul or Lyndel at or mobile: +678 5550271 or +678 5990271.

Anchored Aese Island: 28/08/2023, at 15 26.574S, 167 15.018E, in 8.3m water, with 1.09m tide, 40m chain, exit 260o.  Winds ESE < 15knt.

Banner Photo: Taz chilling at Aore Island

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. What a handsome boy Taz is. That is a beautiful photo of the 2nd mate. The coral garden sounds fab. I love the Kevin story.

    1. Taz says Thankyou Jill, it’s hard being the lone beacon of fashion on this boat.

  2. I love that you titled this entry “another maintenance opportunity” what a fabulous outlook on what someone else might have viewed as a negative setback. All part of the adventure!

    1. Greetings Alana, Peter gave this entry a very apt title indeed. We would love to claim credit for it, but we came across the concept many years ago when we first started researching the boating life. It was in an article stating that “boats give you the opportunity to do maintenance in exotic locations”. It is so true and a useful way to look at things in general. Hugs Suz

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