Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Repairs in far-away places

From the Chief Engineer   November 16, 2010

One of the things that worried me before we started our circumnavigation was how was I going to find parts for repair or find replacements in some out-of-the-way place.  I have found that it has been very easy to find things like bearings, seals, O rings, capacitors, etc.  Let me tell you what happened in Malaysia:

The salt water pump for the heat exchangers (condensers) on the A/C units began to fail…water leaking and lots of noise.  We were stopped in Penang for a few days.  I removed the pump and disassembled it.  I found the bearings on the motor/pump shaft to be shot and the mechanical seal between the pump and the motor was also worn out.

I took the shaft with the failed bearings and the mechanical seal to the dock master.  He spoke very little English, but understood what I needed.  He tried to give me some directions which I did not understand.  I asked him if he knew someone who could take me to where I could buy the parts.  He yelled at a guy cutting the grass to come over.  He showed the guy my failed parts and he and the guy exchanged some words.  Then he told me the guy would take me on the back of his motorcycle to a place where I could buy the bearings.  Next thing I knew we were weaving between cars and driving down alleys.  We stopped at an alley shop that had no front wall.  My escort grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me into the shop.  The shop owner and my escort exchanged lots of words and waving their arms came to me to look at the failed parts.  The shop owner carefully measured the bearings and then scampered up a ladder.  He returned with a smile on his face and said 7 Ringitt (1 dollar = 0.32 Ringitt).  The only English this guy knew was his numbers. 

I pointed to the mechanical seal and the shop owner started talking with my escort.  They jabbered back and forth for a few minutes, then my escort grabbed my elbow and off we went on the motor cycle.  Again weaving through the traffic and zipped into another alley.  My escort pointed to another shop…this one had a front wall and a door.  Inside was a Chinese family of eight eating their noon meal.  I showed the failed mechanical seal to the husband and he started digging in boxes.  He dug around the shop for twenty minutes and finally found the size I wanted.  He asked me “how many” in plain English.  I had been so impressed with low price of the bearings that I said “I will take three.”  They were 10 Ringitt each.  Since this guy seamed to speak some English I asked him where I could get the old bearings pressed off the shaft and the new bearings pressed on.  Most of my asking was sign language using the shaft and the new bearings.  He started speaking in Chinese to his wife and I went outside, grabbed my escort and brought him in.  They all were jabbering for a few minutes, when my escort grabbed me by the elbow and out the door we went, climbed on the motor cycle and started weaving down alleys.

We stopped at a motor cycle repair shop which was covered in at least ¼ inch of grease – floor, walls, tools, parts, and workers.  My escort jabbered with the shop owner and in a few minutes we were all in the back room where the owner had an antique hydraulic press.  In a few minutes he had the old ones off and the new ones pressed on.  He got a calculator and pressed 4.00 in the machine, meaning 4 Ringitt.  There was the departing jabber-jabber between my escort and the shop owner, then we left zigging and zagging down one street, detouring on a sidewalk to get around traffic; then somehow we arrived back at the marina where we started.  I paid my escort 10 Ringitt.  He looked as though he had just won the lottery.

I returned to the boat and in 15 minutes had the pump reassembled and the A/C (known as air-con to the Brits and Aussies) cooling the boat.  My total cost excluding the extra seals, but including the motor cycle and driver, was 31 Ringitt or about $10 USD.

Judy and I are in Houston for a few weeks visiting family, doctors, dentists, bankers, friends, etc.  Our youngest son told me that he has a problem with the circulation pump on his pool.  He said that it was making lots of noise and leaking.  I told him, “…no problem, I can fix it…”  Today I removed the pump and found bad bearings and a worn out mechanical seal.  I tried to locate the parts in a great American city with a population of 4 million.  I had Google, the Internet and even the old-fashioned paper Yellow Pages at my disposal.  I struck out because we are a throw-away society.  When something breaks, you buy a new one.  After driving about 80 miles around the city I found a water well repair shop in the barrio.  The guy told me he would try to get the parts to repair it, but was not promising anything…I will let you know the outcome.

The moral is:  Don’t worry about such things in what you may consider backward countries.  They do not have the money to throw things away and buy new…someone there can help you rebuild or repair what you need repairing.


  1. Great post, Bill! It's reassuring to us as we await the mechanic who's coming to help John fix the leak in our fuel return system. We're at La Palma in the Canary Islands, part of Europe, not third world, but still less of a throw-away society.

  2. Bill,
    This post is a bit late, but I'll tell you that when I lived in Jakarta I had the same experience many times. I love fixing things and you are right. Here in Austin, TX a heating element for a coffee pot takes six weeks to get and costs more than a new pot. I hate this throwaway society.



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