Fixing the Boat in Exotic Locations…

I understand that cruising boats are complex.  And I know that with so many systems it is natural that there will be a significant amount of maintenance and repairs.  I do.  Really.

What is irritating me a bit today is the failure of a component that was newly replaced, according to the manufacturers recommended maintenance schedule.  Before  leaving we tried to be proactive with maintenance and part replacement, and much of the work we had done at Philbrooks was around maintenance of the boat’s critical systems. 

We have just experienced one of those failures.  We were re-assigned to a better slip here in Paradise Village and were getting ready to move the boat at high tide, since the slip we were in was in a relatively shallow part of the estuary.   Following our normal routine, I started the engine and then the stabilizer system (to make sure that the stabilizers are locked in the center position while we maneuver the boat).  There was an immediate alarm from the system indicating “dangerously low oil level”.  This was quite surprising, as we have just been sitting here for the last week or so and we had no issues on the way in to the marina.  I went down to check, and sure enough, the stabilizer hydraulic reservoir was empty,  meaning that some 4+ gallons of hydraulic fluid have leaked into the bilge.  So, move aborted, I started looking around for the source of the leak.  on opening the access panel to the starboard fin assembly, the leak was obvious – the bilge area below the stabilizer was very wet.  None of the hydraulic fittings were wet or leaking, which left the actuator cylinder (the part of the system that actually moves the stabilizer) as the likely suspect.  A call to ABT TRAC get me in touch with the authorized service center in Mexico, and, with a stroke of luck, they were able to send over a crew within an hour.  After brief inspection, it was obvious that there was a massive leak in the seal around the piston – manually activating the stabilizer produced a noticeable amount of fluid right at the seal.  

Yes, that is a nearly brand new stabilizer actuator cylinder.

Fortunately, I had spare, rebuilt cylinders on board.  Why?  Because we had just replaced the cylinders (which were working just fine) based on the TRAC maintenance interval, which is six years (the system is 19 years old).  So, a brand new part that has a service life of 6 years failed after about six months of use.  Now, I can’t say anything bad at all about TRAC’s service and warranty.  They will replace the part and will ship it wherever it is needed.  But that is little consolation and doesn’t take into account the expense incurred in replacing the part.  

Bad seal… enough to leak 4 gallons of hydraulic fluid into the bilge….

I think there is a lesson lurking in all of this for me.  I think it was a mistake to replace the existing actuator cylinders just because they had exceeded the recommended service interval.  They were working fine and showed no signs of leakage.  I realize that in retrospect, I should have bought the replacement cylinders and put them into my spare parts inventory in case of a future failure.  I ignored the old maxim of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I think from now on, we are going to follow this rule.

I’m also getting a little tired of writing about stuff that breaks… and suspect that you are getting tired of reading about it. Next post will be on “stuff that works”.

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