The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Las Brisas de Amador anchorage, Panamá City, Panamá, City, Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Tom has taken a job at Las Brisas “marina” working weekdays on the owner’s large but derelict cabin cruiser. So we were really pleased when he devoted his weekend to getting our Lister put back together and re-installed. He seemed indeed challenged by the whole thing, and it was fun working with him while he figured it all out. After all, he had not taken the engine apart. Putting it back was the real challenge.

His first job was to re-assemble the small hydraulic pump inside the Lister Reverse Gear. I had located the replacement part by internet in the UK. But they wanted around $350 for the little, two-inch-long spindle. So instead, I had it made at Taller Alfredo in Panamá City for $25. It took a little filing, but eventually the two “keys” and the gear wheels had been re-assembled and the pump put back into the transmission.

Attaching the transmission to the engine had long puzzled Tom, more particularly how to get the pump gears to mesh with the drive gears while avoiding breaking something again. The trick, as it turned out, lay in turning the whole engine cum transmission crankshaft a bit at a time using the flange at the back where the prop shaft attaches. This had to be done a couple of times since the original gasket we had hand-made last week became damaged, and we had to fabricate a new one. Practice makes perfect! We are getting better at this!

After a short-ish workday on Saturday, by late mid-day Sunday the transmission was attached and the whole aggregate of engine and transmission had finally been lifted back onto the mounts. It weighs nearly 700 lbs without fluids or the heavy-duty starter and is very bulky (not to mention noisier and hotter) compared to newer diesel engines; on the other hand, these Listers are said to be virtually indestructible). Dangling (and sometimes swinging) as it was from a come-along attached to the main boom, there was a lot of jiggling and juggling to get it all to settle precisely on the bolts. I operated the come-along from the bridge over the engine room, whilst Tom shoved and pulled to get the whole thing turned 180 degrees and then dropped onto the bolts. In the heat and humidity of a Panamanian rainy season day, sweat was much in evidence.

The connection of the ‘umbilicals’ began again: oil and fuel lines; starter and solenoid; instruments; exhaust pipe. I didn’t mention it to Tom, but I recalled that we had had to re-attach everything only to find out ten days ago that, while the engine now worked, the transmission was pfutsch and the whole lot had to be fetched out again and taken apart. Moreover, Vilisar being an old boat now, we managed to break off the dry-exhaust pipe at the hull flange. This had to be repaired before we could start the engine. (I had spent a gruellingly hot day in Panamá City getting a 2-inch, galvanised pipe cut and threaded at both ends as a replacement.)

It was just shortly before 1800 as it was beginning to get dark when Tom finally checked off all the systems on his fingers (fuel, oil, gear oil, starter, alternator, etc., etc.) and announced that we should crank the Lister to life. My heart was thumping a bit, I have to admit; the last time we did this, the engine worked fine, but we were locked by the defective transmission into forward and we almost hit the anchored boat nearby before we realised it and could shut the engine down again. Oh, ye of little faith! This time everything worked just fine. Including the transmission. The transmission goes easily and smoothly into forward, reverse and neutral. What more can you ask?

The only thing not working properly is now the alternator: it does not seem to be providing power to the batteries. But, as Tom says, everything got badly beaten up when the engine was lifted several times and replaced on the mounts. The switch and instrument panel was thoroughly trashed and the wiring probably screwed up permanently. With various mechanics and me crawling into the tight engine room, some wiring was probably damaged. It was already dark, however, and Tim said he wanted to stop for the day. He will come back later to fix it.

We two sat in the dark still surrounded by the tools and instruments and rags and trash of an engine-repair job while we smoked a cigar and drank vodkas with beer chasers until Kathy arrived back from shore. Although Tom had done the heavy work, I still felt drained and the vodka on an empty stomach didn’t do me much good either. But, I also felt very relieved that (nearly) everything is back in place and working. What a saga! I also enjoyed working with Tom. He is a natural philosopher and likes to present his thoughts on everything from the innate differences between the genders to life after (and before) death. He is a natural talent with engines and electricals. He studies the engine until he has it figured out and then starts assembling things. Whereas with other mechanics, either my view was blocked as they worked in the narrow confines of the “engine room” or they worked in total silence except for saying things like “Oh, that’s easy!” Not helpful. So, this time I actually feel I have learned a lot and was even able to contribute one or two useful things to the project beyond just handing in the correct wrench or cleaning casket sealant off the rims.

I deliberately try not to reflect that we had just spent nearly $800 and six weeks to replace a $4 oil seal, and that we still do not know for sure whether the new seal is actually doing the job. It would have been a lot more expensive except that, in Tom’s case, we are exchanging work by writing and editing the texts for his Round-the-World Sailing Rally-project. (You can visit his blogsite at ).

Fatalistically, we have purposely left off discussing any immediate plans between Kathleen and me until we knew the engine was really working again. We still have six weeks on our visas and three weeks on our Cruising Permit. Since we had not actually taken Vilisar out of the country but returned with a broken motor, we only get month-by-month extensions on the Cruising Permit. We have more or less given up plans to sail to Polynesia before Thanksgiving: we could have been there easily by now, Kathleen points out. But the SE Trades will start to weaken now and, since it is now officially an El Niño Year, with less reliable winds and a greater chance of bad weather, we shall probably instead start up the Pacific coast of Central America towards Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and even Mexico, secure in the knowledge that the farther NW we go, the closer we actually get to Polynesia anyway. The rainy season and the threat of hurricanes will wane and disappear by the end of November so we could dawdle in Islas Las Perlas and Western Panamá until it is safe to move on.


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