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Thursday, December 19, 2013

At a car service

Upon arrival in Praia, I already knew that my car’s hydraulic couplings desperately needed to be refastened. This meant that we had to fasten the insulating sleeve behind the pump and use screw glue for the other connectors. Fastening is an easy job when you have a wrench. By visual observation, the diameter was impressive – 56 mm (actually probably 54). My to-do list also included a lot of smaller jobs: straighten the sheet metal so that when moving the body won’t press on one of the low pressure hoses; cut off some of the sheet metal near the hydraulic coupling in order to create an access to properly tighten the coupling with the big locking keys; open up the backlash of the toothed wheel of the hydraulic pump and place the bearing lock in between; strengthen the bridge between the pontoons with a detached board; inflate and attach the inflatable support pontoons; check if the fuel stays in the middle chambers of the pontoons or leaks out; tighten and tie the ropes; clean the car windows and body from salt; load the hydraulic oil, extra fresh water, food, etc.; refuel the car with 1,400 litres of diesel (600 litres took an entire day) and of course, the never-ending cleaning and tidying…

Some wrenches didn’t fit, some were not strong enough and with some the access was impossible.

I did something every day. The toothed wheel of the hydraulic pump was a positive surprise. It was undamaged and looked like it was straight from the factory. I replaced the chain shock absorber, after which the chain transmission seemed to be in a pretty good condition. But checking if the fuel was leaking backward had to wait: waves washed over the pontoon’s chambers and as a result, it was impossible to control anything by simply opening the plugs. I needed to pump out the fuel. The canisters arrived on the fourth day in the harbour and then the work began. On the one hand, the operation that I had started optimistically ended well. There had been no leaking of fuel and it got pumped out nicely. But as usual at the car service, you go to visit them with only one problem and they always find several other faults. The pontoons were leaking.

Luckily, there was a sandy beach in Praia and with high tide I drove the Amphibear to the beach. A bustling crowd of people quickly gathered around the car: everybody wanted to exchange a few words and take a picture – it was hopeless to get anything done. I locked the car and headed to the hotel. I had to wait for a low tide anyways and it did not arrive before nightfall. Thankfully, Arnaldo helped me in the evening. We went back to the car and started working. At first, we tried to tighten the hydraulic sleeve. This time, well-built Arnaldo held the thick rubber hose, trying to bend it straighter, and I tried to fasten the sleeve with hose pliers and a metre long metal rod that worked as an extension. We succeeded in tightening it a bit more than before but I was still not happy. Lea has sent me a wrench from home, via a courier, and when it arrives we are going to try one more time.

Again we checked the rear chamber of the pontoon for leakage. When opening the plug we didn’t know how much water might be in there. It turned out that it was more than half full. Judging by eye, it was around the same amount that I had planned to take in fuel along with me. Actually it was slightly less, and when we took a closer look we saw the reason. The attachment provided by the factory for fastening the pontoons to the engine was broken in half. It was detached from the lower bending point. So the gearing bolt heads had been hitting against the pontoon’s back wall until there was a large dent and a crack that was the cause of the leakage. Fortunately, it had all happened during the last few days of the crossing.

Now we knew the problem, and it wasn’t pleasant. I needed someone who could do sea aluminium welding. Even in Estonia it is difficult to find such a company, not to mention here in Praia. The first one that Arnaldo managed to find the following morning knew nothing about welding in an inert gas environment. I was recommended another company. My recent experience with looking for the right wrench had left its negative mark and so I was prepared for the worst and already planning how to cover the entire rear end of the pontoon with the EPO, but then I noticed a rustproof handrail of a department store under construction and my hope returned. It was perfectly welded. This way I found a company called Metalica and a specialist Osvaldo who agreed to come and help us out the very next day.

The next day, during high tide we turned the boat around so that its rear end would stay more on dry ground. I detached all the safety ropes and unloaded the rest of the equipment that had to be removed before driving the car on dry land. The following morning, when I went back to the car during low tide, I saw a sad sight – the pontoons’ rear end was half way sunk in the sand. I started to dig it out. After I had finished and Osvaldo arrived it was clear that welding in such conditions was impossible. We began to wait for high tide again. By 2 pm it had arrived, the car was soon out of the sand and its wheels touched the ground. Making sure that at least three wheels had traction; I began to drive towards the shore. Surprisingly, all four wheels were fine and even the brakes were working to some extent.

We did a great deal of digging but it was impossible to work in the pit.

A lot of curious people were watching our every move.

With the car on the shore, we took a closer look. There were additional cracks in the mounting plate which meant that we had to remove the winches. Louis got us a chair and a table that we placed under the dismantled winches. It was obvious that in addition to welding, we needed to strengthen them as well. Luckily, we had the right reinforcement pieces and so the two-day long welding process began. An otherwise simple job turned out to be quite a headache due to the long cable and unstable electrical current.

Osvaldo is adjusting the electric current. The power cable was over 100 m long.

The five metres of welding material that we had with us ran out in the middle of the work. In town we found nothing for the sea aluminium welding. Fortunately, Osvaldo suggested that we could cut out the necessary material strips from the reserve aluminium plates that I had brought with me. We followed his idea and welding continued. As a final result, the upper attachment is two times thicker than before and the lower attachment has the welded strips under the pontoon and on the sides. Yet, there is no reason for thinking that such solution would last for a long time but it should take me to America.

Repaired and reinforced engine attachment.

“And how does an Amphibian car traveller spend his evenings?” I asked myself that night in the hotel when I was in the middle of cutting the 100 metre rope (meant for attaching the canisters) into 2 metre pieces. Since I need to take a lot of fuel with me, I decided to put the majority of it into the canisters instead of pontoons. In this way, there would be greater buoyancy (the canisters have volume as well), refuelling is also easier and I can tell with the naked eye how much diesel is still left. Only the attaching part would be a bit complicated. Waves are dangerous and 48 randomly floating heavy canisters would definitely belong to the genre of black humour.

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