I have been writing and performing for the past 15 years and am a highly respected finger style guitarist. I continue to write and perform but just over 5 years ago an unfortunate incident upon a ship – involving a table full of old Dublin Bus batteries, some choppy sea and my beloved JM Martin Guitar, ill-protected in a tired old soft gig case – caused me to divert my attention and dive head first in to the unfamiliar world of guitar repair.
After years of playing and a keen interest in the setting up of and general maintenance of my own instruments, I had some background knowledge to draw on… but not really enough to prepare me for the new task ahead! Needless to say, the process of fixing my precious Martin was long and involved, but it taught me a great deal and in the end proved to be a most valuable gift which set me on my way to becoming a professional guitar maker. But before I share those first lessons with you, it’s worth hearing a bit more about what happened on the ship that fated day…
…Twas a calm sunny day on the Carlingford Loch when HMS Enterprise left Warrenpoint harbour in Northern Ireland on her way to Kilkeel where she was to have a dry dock survey before her imminent sale could be finalised.
I had missed the crossing from Southampton some five years back after volunteering for the ‘Pirates for Peace’ charity by refitting the ship and getting her ready to welcome the budding young musicians and radio DJ wannabes that she would be serving when she finally docked in the Newry basin, Northern Ireland. As a result I was relishing the opportunity to be onboard for the short journey round to Kilkeel Harbour. There I would stay on the ship for a night or so before she was ready to return and so I made sure to take my trusty guitar to help wile away the hours and keep me out of trouble… Or so I thought!
Now, there was no real need to take my favourite instrument out to sea, but you tend not to think about those things at the time. I stowed the guitar in the chart room and headed to the wheel deck to marvel at the beautiful views of the Mourn Mountains to the north and the Cooley Mountains to the south as we chugged along the Carlingford Loch and out into open water.
It was an honour and a privilege to be given the opportunity to steer the fine vessel as we exited the loch and made the turn north, hugging the coastline down to Kilkeel. There was no thought other than excitement when the sea became choppy and even as the ship started listing to and fro and we heard the occasional crashing about of loose items from below the deck I thought nothing of it. Instead, I chortled with glee as the bow of the ship lifted and fell, with each wave that hit us giving a view of nothing but sky and then nothing but sea as the bow disappeared under the water. Then, there was a big crash. It may have come from inside the chart room. But it was hard to tell.
As we approached Kilkeel’s harbour I handed over the wheel to the captain as there was very little margin for error in getting a vessel of this size into the harbour safely. It was then that I decided to head below and see what all the crashing was about…
Only now did it become apparent that nothing on board had really been lashed down or stowed away properly. The chart room table had collapsed. On closer inspection it became evident that it simply couldn’t handle the weight of the half dozen or so Dublin Bus batteries that had been stacked on top of it and hidden from view by a tarpaulin and an old coat before the voyage began. In response, the table had given up the ghost somewhere on route.
It was clear now that propping my beloved guitar up against the chart room table inside its inadequate gig bag before excitedly hoisting the anchor wasn’t the safest of options. The penny really dropped when I picked it up from the floor after lifting various items off of it. It felt, ‘floppy’, and somehow shorter in overall length than it was when I took it on board. This I thought, is not good.
To be continued…