The Saga of the Grease Nipple

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Thu 23 Oct 2014 05:35
At anchor Hogg Bay
Weather: calm, sunny, and cool

Looking at the weather patterns for this time of year and the rapidly
shortening hours of daylight I have come to the conclusion that we will be
doing quite a bit of motoring while in the Prince William Sound region. With
this in mind this morning I decided it would be a seaman-like precaution to
lubricate the propellor shaft bearings. This, unfortunately, is no small
task. There are three bearings. The first sits under a floorboard in the
galley and is relatively easy to access. The second bearing is a little more
difficult as it sits underneath the companionway steps. The steps double as
a good sized storage locker, so to access this bearing first I have to empty
out the locker and lift a board in the bottom of it to reveal the bearing.
Again, while it is a bit of hassle moving all this gear, once the bottom of
the locker has been opened up it is not difficult to reach in and attach the
grease gun to the bearing's grease nipple.

But the third bearing lies under the cockpit, and to access its grease
point, apart from having to remove the pile of stuff that is stowed under
the cockpit, one has to be a virtual contortionist. Fortunately I am still
relatively small and flexible and able to crawl into these small spaces.
Having pulled all the stuff out of the cockpit locker and from under the
cockpit, I squeezed my way into the cockpit locker (this is a sure test of
whether my waistline has increased or not), then squirm my way under the
cockpit sole. The actual grease nipple is hidden from view by the frame
which this bearing is bolted to, so I have to feel my way around it until I
find the nipple with my fingers, then I can attach the grease gun to it.

This time something did not seem quite right. I was sure that the nipple
should have had a right angle in it to allow the gun to be attached,
otherwise there would not be sufficient room, but the angle did not appear
to be there, and I could feel what seemed to be a wire sticking out of the
nipple. After a bit of a think I realised what was wrong. The right angle of
the nipple must have broken off and what I was feeling was the spring that
sits inside the nipple and holds a very small ball bearing against its
opening to act as a check valve, allowing grease in but not out again.
Bother! What to do?

Initially I thought that I would just pack some grease into the bearing from
the outside, and try to replace the grease nipple at another time. Not a
very satisfactory solution but there seemed little else I could do. Then I
thought, perhaps there is a spare grease nipple in one of my tool boxes. I
squirmed my way out of the tight space and, lo and behold, the tool box did
in fact contain a right angled grease nipple. It was old but it should do
the trick. So the next thing to do was to remove the broken nipple. This
proved easier than I expected and, once removed and brought out into the
light of day, my diagnosis was in fact proven correct. OK, next step, screw
the new one in. This was going to be tricky. A major concern was that the
depths of the bilge lay below where I was working, like the bottomless pit
from which there is no return. And indeed, if the tiny slippery greasy
grease nipple did slip through my fingers into the blackness of the bilge
then it would be lost forever more.

As I squatted on my haunches under the cockpit sole, I closed my eyes (my
sense of touch seems to be more sensitive when my eyes are closed) and felt
the hole where I had to screw the grease nipple into. I then tried to locate
the nipple over the hole using my two index fingers working against one
another. It soon became apparent that there was insufficient room between
the bearing and the frame to which it was attached for the right angle part
of the grease nipple to rotate, small though it was. While I do not like to
speak ill of the dead, I have to say, Mr Payne, that this particular aspect
of Sylph's design leaves a lot to be desired.

Once more I squirmed my way out of the hole over the bottomless pit. I
examined the grease nipple and realised I could unscrew the right angle bit
(it only sticks out about 2 mm) out of the main body of the fitting. With it
removed I could then rotate the body of the grease nipple and screw it into
position, then I could screw the right angle bit back onto it after it was
in place – all by Braille.

Well I guess I have dragged this little saga out long enough. Suffice to say
that while it took time and patience, I eventually got the replacement
grease nipple screwed into place and the bearing properly greased. What was
supposed to take a couple of hours ended up taking almost the whole day,
just because of one tiny little grease nipple.

Here ends the saga of the grease nipple (I hope).

I want to make an early start tomorrow so as to transit the Prince of Wales
Passage into the Sound with the flood tide, which runs from 07.40 until
13.30. Unfortunately sunrise is not until 08.52, and with two anchors to
recover and the dinghy to secure I suspect I will not get away quite as
quickly as I would like, but there's nought to be done but to make the most
of circumstances as they are.

All is well.