Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Changing the gearbox oil and meeting an unusual towpath cyclist

I did lots of boat jobs today. First was to check that the domestic alternator still worked after installing the relay. It did, which was good. Next I applied a second coat of red paint to the tunnel band. Then it was time to change the engine oil and filter, a task which went smoothly. While doing this it occurred to me to check the gearbox oil level, something I'd been putting off as I didn't have the right size spanner to loosen the dipstick nut. I still don't have the correct spanner but I managed to use a small stilson to turn it without damage. (The gearbox oil filler, which incorporates the dipstick, is to the right of the photo, partially hidden by the left'hand of the two parallel hoses.)

The dipstick revealed two things. Two bad things. One was that the level was below the minimum. At this point I walked over to Tooley's Boatyard to get some advice. I wanted to know if the gearbox took the same oil as the engine which, in my case, apparently it does. (PRM150 gearbox; 10W40.) The chap in the boatyard was very friendly and helpful; on discovering that the observatory dome was his we got talking about astronomy. I was surprised at the town centre location but he explained that he uses it for bright objects, especially the sun, and so light pollution is not so much of an issue.

Anyway, back to the gearbox. Another detail in the story is that, for some time now, there has been a puddle of new-looking oil under the engine/gearbox.

The other bad thing that the dipstick revealed was that the gearbox oil was black. Gearbox oil is not supposed to be black. Even old gearbox oil is not supposed to be black. This is because there are no combustion products getting in the oil. Here is some of what came out of my gearbox.

The friendly Tooley's man, when I showed him, suggested that it might be starting to emulsify. He postulated that water might be getting in from a tiny leak in the oil cooler water jacket. He also told me to check the oil hose connections for leaks; when I said that they were dry he suggested that oil could leak from where the actuator lever enters the gearbox.

Well, I don't know. I refilled the gearbox with nice new oil, quite tricky as the filler hole is much smaller and less accessible than the engine oil filler, and started up. All connections and plugs etc. seemed to remain dry so I declared the boat good to go.

And go we did, leaving Banbury after a very nice couple of sunny days. We stopped at Morrison's for one or two essential supplies, then progressed down to Aynho Wharf. On the way a cyclist exchanged a few words as we worked through a lock; we met him again at Aynho Weir Lock. Dan was cycling from Liverpool to Oxford for a lunch date tomorrow, sleeping rough en route. He was about to light a camp fire to cook his vegan meal of nettle heads and blackthorn blossom - and half a can of beans. His bed was to be a pile of dry grass cuttings under the bridge. I think he said he'd set off on Monday last week, i.e. eight days ago.

Before this encounter we stopped at the farm shop just before Nell Bridge. Here there was a strange assortment of old settees and barbecues, an upright piano on a pallet under a rustic roof and a Rolls-Royce as well as the farm shop itself and a café kiosk with a sign saying "Bacon is the answer". (Or was it "The answer is bacon"?) On our way back we'll have to stop for a fry-up!

Now, as I say, we're at Aynho Wharf. We arrived in the dry, having had the first rain for ages as we cruised. We'll walk into the village in the morning, that's after I check the gearbox oil level.

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