Violin and cello at sea?

I am currently reading the Patrick O’Brian series about Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. In general, I love the books. One thing keeps bothering me though. Could a violin and a cello survive for months at a time on the high seas and still be able to play a duet together? It seems like the changes in air pressure and humidity (and we won’t even discuss naval combat) would be too much for them.

It’s not impossible for them to survive in playable condition. The changes in humidity and temperature are going to be slow, so the wood will have time to adjust (unlike, say, carrying it on a long winter carriage ride, then straight into a well-heated drawing room). And dryness is generally going to be worse than the dampness of a ship, so long-term should be OK. The salt might be an issue for the varnish, especially if there’s not much fresh water to wipe it down with.

Playing together with the other instrument isn’t really an issue. As long as both instruments are still playable, you should be able to tune them to each other (which you’ll do each time anyway).

Of course, in the novels, when Aubrey does get a very good violin, he leaves that at home, and brings a beater on board ship.

It can be done, or at least attempted. Go here and scroll down to William “Ollie” Campbell.

It doesn’t say what kind of shape the violin was in at the end.

I think there are portions of that series where he remarks that the instruments, during a long voyage, got fairly badly out of tune.

Thanks, everyone.

Good thoughts, Quercus. I’m only on the third book so I don’t think Aubrey has gotten that really good violin yet, but I think I know the one he wants.

I know that this thread is old, but I can help with this.

I am reading the Patrick O’brien series as well (just completed Far Side of the World), and I am also a violin maker.

I believe a violin could do well enough at sea, as long as it isn’t in direct contact with sea water.

The changes of temperature, air pressure, and other factors occur on land as well as at sea. I would contend that the humidity at sea would be reasonably constant, and consistency of humidity would prevent many of the harmful changes (neck angle changes, cracks, etc.) that often occur on land when humidity changes. The steady humidity could be good.

It is possible that direct contact with salt water could affect the varnish, and it could soften and/or damage the wood, but I don’t think it would be too problematic if the instrument is kept reasonably dry.

As I recall, Jack is considering the Purchase of a Guarneri (don’t know if it was Del Gesu), but he currently (for my place in the series) plays an Amati. Both are well respected Cremonese instruments, and the Guarneri would be particularly exciting.

As for going out of tune, well, violins require frequent tuning in any case. That is just “par for the course”.

As for violin repairs performed by the Ship’s carpenter, well, I’d probably dread the results of that. Lutherie is a very specific field that requires unique and specific knowledge, tools and skills.

I hope this helps.

Isn’t this the same situation that everyone in the world dealt with in the days before air conditioning and dehumidifiers? How is “on a ship” different from “in a house by the seashore”?

You can play a violin and cello right up until the very end at sea.