Monday, March 29, 2010

Memento Mori

This photo shows my father in about 1973, when he was 51 years old - my age. We were in St. John of the U.S. Virgin Islands for a family vacation, and we'd chartered a very good 20 foot sloop. In this picture we are sailing to Jost Van Dyke, reaching across the Trade Winds.

My father died last Wednesday. He had a wonderful life, and many memorable cruises and sails.  He was a great friend, a wise and good man, and many will miss him, including me.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Checklists are necessary for safe sailing. A good source of ideas for improving your boat and your preparation are checklists published for big races - just Google "race checklist sailing." I found this slightly off kilter but excellent checklist on the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club site. What is "scrutineering", anyway?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Important Stuff

Marine insurance is the oldest form of insurance on the planet. Lloyd's of London, where it all began, is still a major player. It began in a coffee house where shipowners gathered each day.

Used to be only a few companies wrote yacht policies, but now quite a few do. In my business I am surprised how often I now see yacht policies written by homeowner's insurers with an obvious lack of expertise, and I frequently run into adjusters for these companies who wouldn't know a seacock if it fell in their coffee. For my money, I would not buy a yacht policy except from a marine insurer.

Here's the problem. Yacht policies are subject to the same rules of construction as is the policy that insured the Exxon Valdez. That means the policy is strictly construed, word for word. There is, generally speaking, no attempt or ability on the part of courts to construe the policy in favor of the insured. This rule of construction is in contrast to the consumer-oriented construction courts give to all other consumer insurance policies (auto, home etc.)

To know what your coverage is, you really have to read the policy, and in particular the exclusions. (That's true of any policy - if you read nothing else of the policies you get in the mail read the declarations page and the exclusions.) For example, if your geographic limits exclusion covers your yacht only to 50 miles offshore, if you are outside that limit you have zero coverage. Same for layup dates and many other details. These new policies written by companies new to marine insurance sneak in exclusions and policy terms not seen in traditionally written policies and which tend to exclude many common casualties from coverage - beware.

Having said that, did you know that most policies will provide no coverage if your boat sinks due to a corroded seacock, or an old cracked engine hose that bursts, or other forms of "inherent vice"? It's true. Most policies contain the following language: "The perils generally excluded are wear and tear, gradual deterioration, or inherent vice, marine borers, vermin, loss caused by ice or freezing while afloat, loss to sails while racing, and petty theft or mysterious disappearance losses."

Beware. Ask your agent what these words mean and make sure you know the extent of your coverage. Some of these perils can be insured against, for additional premium.

St. Elmo's Fire

We were off Cape Hatteras in a thunderstorm, and I went forward to hand the main. As I looked up I saw that the mast and rigging were glowing blue. Cool, I thought, St. Elmo's Fire. The skipper thought otherwise. "Hurry up. And don't touch anything." Sound advice, if impractical.

Bowditch tells me "St. Elmo's Fire is a luminous discharge of electricity from pointed objects such as the masts and yardarms of ships, lightning rods, steeples, mountain tops, blades of grass, human hair [yikes!], etc. when there is a considerable difference in the electrical charge between the object and the air. . . . An object from which St. Elmo's fire emanates is in danger of being struck by lightning, since this type discharge may be the initial phase of the leader stroke."

I have seen it a few times on aircraft, where it is more interesting than worrisome, at least to me. On a boat it just scary.

I am not sure this photo is authentic - the lights looks like the glow of the landing light to me.I can find almost no photos of this phenomenon, but there is no mistaking the real thing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mary Celeste

On November 7, 1872, the brig Mary Celeste sailed from New York, bound for Genoa, Italy and carrying a cargo of alcohol in barrels. She was commanded by Benjamin Spooner Briggs of Marion, Massachusetts, who was also part owner. There were seven crew on board in addition to Captain Briggs, and also on board were Mrs. Briggs and Sophia, their two year old daughter.

Eight days later the brigantine Dei Gratia, not far from the Azores, sighted a vessel under shortened sail and poor control. The Dei Gratia approached and haled the brig. Receiving no response they boarded her. No one was on board. The ship's boat was missing. There was three feet of water in the hold, but that was nothing unusual given that the weather had been somewhat rough. The forward hatch and the lazarette hatch were off. There was no evidence of fire or explosion, nor of foul play. The binnacle was knocked off its mounts and the compass destroyed. The chronometer, sextant, Bowditch, ship's register and other papers were missing. There was every appearance that the crew had abandoned the Mary Celeste in a great hurry - for example, the crew left its oilskins, valuables, pipes and tobacco.

The Dei Gratia brought the brig into Gibraltar and an inquest ensued. There were suspicions of mutiny, of pirates, and of insurance fraud gone bad. None of these theories had any real basis in proof or motivation. Nine of the 1,700 barrels of alcohol were empty, which was apparently not unusual for such a voyage in the days of wooden barrels.

To many, the leading theory centers on the cargo. The ship sails from cold water to warm. The alcohol warms too and gives off fumes. Perhaps there is a low-order explosion (although no evidence of that was found), insufficient to damage the ship - or leave a trace - but enough to rattle the crew, which drags off a hatch to ventilate the hold and then hurries into the boat to give the hold time to air. Although the crew intends to return to the ship, because he is not a fool the captain brings his instruments and papers. A squall comes up and drives off the ship and the ship's boat sinks. But what about the destroyed binnacle?

The mystery of the Mary Celeste has never been solved or satisfactorily explained. The Mary Celeste (that is the correct spelling) wrecked on a Haitian reef in 1885.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Green Flash

In Griffith's great book Blue Water, he writes that the voyager is "a connoisseur of sunsets, a seer of the green flash." Light from the sun consists of all colors, and each color corresponds to different wavelengths, longest for red, shortest for blue and ultra-violet. As light from the sun passes through the atmosphere, it refracts, or bends, and the amount of refraction depends on the wavelength of the light. Red is bent least, blue and ultra-violet the most. The shortest blue wavelengths are so refracted as to scatter amongst the air molecules and across the sky - we see light of that wavelength in every direction, and the sky is blue.

The green is refracted not quite so much as to scatter, and when the sun has set or nearly set, there may, under optimal conditions, occur a moment when the only light refracted sufficiently to reach the observer consists of green wavelengths. Sometimes the flash is bluish, and sometimes, very rarely, violet.

For this explanation I am again indebted to my 1966 Bowditch.

When I have a clear horizon at sunset I watch for the green flash, and I have seen it but twice. It lasts longer at high latitudes, as does the sunset, and Bowditch informs me that at mid-latitudes it lasts about .7 seconds. That seems right to me - a flash, but a long discernible flash.

On my cutter I always watched for the green flash, and my persistence became a matter of shipboard humor. It was generally held even by the captain that the green flash was a myth. One perfect evening we were off Jamaica, cruising downwind in the Trades, just beautiful. It was after dinner and there happened to be a few officers on the bridge, including the C.O. I had the watch, and I stood on the bridgewing and as usual watched for the green flash. The captain and some others joined me, the usual jokes being made.

Just as the upper limb of the sun sank the horizon, there appeared at that spot a brilliant emerald light, obvious to everyone. It stayed for a long moment, and then it was night.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Big Multihulls

In the 1980's big multihulls, eighty or ninety feet length overall, began making runs at some of the bluewater records: Atlantic crossings, circumnavigations, New York to San Francisco by the Horn, and so on. So many of these early attempts ended in structural failure or capsize. I remember thinking that as big as they were the boats weren't really big enough, that a trimaran or catamaran 130 feet (40 meters) or more could handle almost all seas and continue to make speed, and be strong enough to hold up. A few years later the monster multihulls made the scene, and the old records began steadily to fall. Here's a link to a great video showcasing a few of these big boats, including Banque Populaire V, holder of the record for fastest west to east Atlantic crossing.

Banque Populaire V has her sights now on the Jules Verne Record for fastest circumnavigation (departing and returning to the English Channel, and leaving the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, and Cape Horn to port).
The present record holder is the 38 meter (124 foot) catamaran Orange II, skippered by Bruno Peyron: 50 days, 16 hours and 20 minutes. You can see her in the video.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fastest Sailboat

There are all sorts of speed records for sailboats: distance in 24 hours, speed over 500 meters, etc. etc. The governing body for establishing records is the World Sailing Speed Record Council. The record for speed over 500 meters is an astonishing 51.36 knots, set by Alain Thebault in 2009. A photo of the boat at speed is below.

During trials SailRocket, a contender but not the record holder, touched 68 knots and then crashed. (Scroll down the link for an astounding video.)

Perhaps more fantastic is the record for distance over 24 hours, set by the 40 meter trimaran Banque Populaire V, shown here. The distance covered? 908 nautical miles, giving an average speed of 37.84 knots! She set this record during her successful 2009 bid to set a new record for a west to east passage of the Atlantic under sail: 3 days, 15 hours, 25 minutes and 48 seconds, Ambrose Light to The Lizard, 2,880 miles, average speed 32.94 knots.
If you please, in 1952 the S.S. United States, considered the fastest liner ever built, set a record for an eastbound crossing at an average speed of 35.59 knots. And burned a lot of Bunker C to do so.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Moth Racing

If you don't know this class, check out the Moth, a single-handed, foil lifted dinghy capable of 25 knots. The moth, an "open class" design, lifts in as little as 6 knots of wind, and sailing one looks extremely challenging but so much fun. The world championships are going on now in Dubai.

Foil lifted sailboats have been in development for 75 years. The breakthrough that allowed the Moth to succeed is sensors - wands - at the bow which determine the height of the hull above the water and, though a linkage, cause minute changes in the angle of attack of the forward foil to prevent the wing from nearing the surface and ingesting air, which of course destroys lift and causes a crash. You can just see the wands in these two shots.

Gotta try this boat. Bet I could make it go.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Getting To Be That Time

When I am rigging Journeyman it is handy to have a knife, needlenose pliers, and both flat and Phillips screwdrivers at hand. This set up serves me well. The sheath holding the pliers is one I made years ago when my snap on sheath snapped off and dropped overboard, fortunately while I was holding my knife. I just trimmed off the bottom of the sheath. The screwdriver switches between flat and Phillips.

You can make a similar sheath for pliers out of the Nylon sheath sold with the Mini Maglight flashlight.

Monday, March 8, 2010

America's Cup

They just finished racing the America's Cup. Did you notice?

What a shame to see this great event, one of the finest in all sport, raced since 1857, degrade into a marginalized, eccentric sideshow, followed by few and won as much by lawyers interpreting the deed of gift as by the sailors and designers.

Maybe I'm just a crank, but the whole thing went to hell when they dropped the 12 Meter class in favor of, first big exotic monohulls and now whatever goes. The point of match racing is to place two closely matched boats on the same course so that strategy and tactics and boathandling determine the result, rather than raw boat speed. The 12 meters, with their fat displacement hulls, did just that, and the result was superb racing. Should we go back to the 12's?

Australia's Gretel II (KA 3), and Intrepid. Intrepid beat Gretel II 3 races to 2 in 1970. In the 3rd race, Intrepid won by half a boatlength after 24 miles of racing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What is it?

A few years ago I had an elderly client who was in reduced circumstances. He lived on his yacht, an old wood harbor tanker (fuel hoy) converted to a schooner, unique, capacious, and run down.

He had no money and I didn't have much of an expectation I'd earn anything on the case. But one day he brought to my office this very beautiful inclinometer, about 19 inches high, apparently in its original case and with the original glass. He died soon after, and I like to think he knew I'd appreciate and take care of this lovely old thing.

So far as I can tell without removing the instrument from its case (which I don't want to do for fear of marring the brass), it has no maker's mark. My client could tell me only that he thought it might have come from a steamship.

I am finally getting around to making inquiry to nautical museums and dealers, and I'll let you know what I find out.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Best Fish Recipe

I know, that's an absurd claim, and I don't really mean it. But I do love a whole fish, and I believe I am approaching a true understanding of their cooking.

Fresh whole fish by their nature cook beautifully, inclined to be moist and succulent. When we catch the delectable Black Sea Bass off Journeyman, we bring them home on ice, already cleaned and gilled. After making sure they are well scaled, we pat the fish dry, roll the fish in olive oil and salt it and put it in a very hot frying pan. (Every smoke alarm in the house will go off.) A couple of minutes later we turn the fish, and after another minute or two the fish, frying pan and all, goes into a very hot oven, as hot as yours will go. Don't cook too long - the backbone should be just pink - but make sure it's done: cut down to the backbone at a thick place.

The fish might be shared by you and another, and you will eat it mostly with fingers and right down to the brain case, which you should feel free to crack and suck. Fantastic! This technique works with any nice round fish, two, maybe three pounds, but the fish must be very fresh.

There is a delicious variation by a local fish restaurant of national renown, Portland, Maine's Street and Company. I don't know Street's exact recipe, but here is the version with which I am currently toying.

In a heavy saucepan using plenty of olive oil I saute a slivered medium onion, a couple of slivered shallots, just a little garlic (one clove), and a cup or 1 1/2 cups of carrots cut to the dimension of a match stick. Add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, or some chopped tomatoes and cook a little more.

To the cooked vegetables I add a bit of basil, maybe a touch of oregano, a nice pinch of saffron, and some vermouth or other dry white wine, and a cup or two of water or vegetable stock. I would not add salt - the shellfish will take care of that. You will have a highly aromatic rich heavy stock, an inch or two deep in the pot

Meanwhile I am frying the whole fish on the stove top, just as in the first recipe but in a dutch oven or frying pan with a tight cover. (The frying is done with the fish uncovered, however.) After the fish has cooked briefly but hard on each side as in the first recipe (but without salting), pour the contents of the saucepan over the fish and cover, so it braises in just an inch or two of liquid, not entirely covered by the liquid. At the same time put in some shrimp, maybe northern shrimp, and some mussels, almost as garnish for each plate but they add their flavor too as they open. Simmer covered until just done, and serve right now.

At Street each diner gets a fish with the very aromatic and rich stock and shellfish, served in an oval copper casserole right from the hot oven where they finish the dish. You could finish it in the oven too, maybe briefly putting the uncovered pan under a hot broiler when it is nearly done, so the fish browns and crisps just a bit.

You can buy a baguette and slice it on the diagonal and fry the slices in olive oil until they are browned on both sides. Put one crouton in each wide soup dish and dish the fish and broth over the crouton. Put a few more fried slices on the table to sop the broth. Some good.

This is a wonderful way to cook fish but the fish must be very high quality. Did I already say that?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


We have a painting of New Haven harbor made in the 1850's. The painting shows at least twenty boats and ships, and most of the boats are tonging oysters, as in this detail. New Haven and surrounding waters produced vast quantities of oysters until poor water quality either killed the oysters or made them essentially poisonous from coliform, vibrio (aka cholera) and other bacteria associated with sewage. The entire fishery was pretty much written off by the 1960's when something wonderful happened: the 1972 passage of  Senator Ed Muskie's Clean Water Act. Now the fishery produces 450,000 bushels of oysters annually, with 70,000 acres under aquacuture, affording 300 jobs. Thanks, Ed!

Oysters are cultivated on the Martha's Vineyard ponds where I like to spend time, and a consequence is a proliferation of tasty wild oysters exactly like those costing a dollar a piece in the market, and far more in a restaurant. They are so briny and good, fresh from an icy salt pond.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fine Art

To calm us all down from the weekend's lurid post, I offer you details from an 1850's oil by George Durrie, a New Haven painter. These are from one of his many "East Rock" and "West Rock" pictures, and it shows a man in a dugout canoe or pirogue on his way up the Quinnipiac River. Despite the light breeze he is making pretty fair speed, judging from the wake and the ripple at his steering oar. The pirogue is rigged with a spritsail, a rig that sail, mast and sprit could be bundled into his dugout in a moment's time. (Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

Dugouts have a long history in Connecticut: indeed, in 1988 divers found a prehistoric dugout sunk in a lake. Mystic Seaport, the great maritime museum, has the transcript of a 260 minute1967 interview with Fair Haven oysterman John Thomas (born 1881), who relates that one of his dugouts could carry fifty bushels.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Key West 1981

In January 1981 I was keeping a big yawl on the Miami River. My college sailing buddy Leo called me and said he had a berth for me on a brand-new J/30, for the Ft. Lauderdale - Key West race. I joined him and we rigged the boat and raced hard, and we kicked ass. All that frozen night we hung so close to the reef - avoiding the Gulf Stream's 4 knots - we saw breakers to starboard. We were in Class D, and we beat all of our class, all of Class C, and most of B.

Arriving in Key West's Truman Annex, we were given pride of place in the old submarine berths. The Annex gates were open to downtown, the rum tents were free and a huge crowd, thousands, soon formed. (Note the guy in the spreaders.)

The scene was ripe for a wet T shirt contest and we dispatched the crew to roam the crowd for contestants. They brought back a dozen perfectly suitable and perfectly willing young women. The contest occured on the deck of our boat and the locker room was below. It was a time.

In due course a winner was crowned, and she chose to show the crowd her unadorned glory. You should have been there.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bookshelf (cont'd)

Back to the bookcase . . . On the left, Clipper Ships and their Makers, by Alexander Laing.This book is a wonderful survey of the clipper ships, the first ships to log 400 nautical miles in 24 hours. (The record is Champion of the Sea's 465 miles noon to noon, a record which no sailing ship bested until the last decade or two, and that a purpose-built yacht.) The book is to a great extent the story of Captain Nat Palmer of Stonington, Connecticut, the genius designer. His Great Republic was, at 4,555 gross tons, the largest wooden sailing ship that ever was built or ever will be built.

Then, Salamina by the artist/author Rockwell Kent. This 1935 book is a first edition and a book of some modest value. It is elegantly illustrated, of course, and a pretty good tale of Greenland voyaging.

Surely most of us keep a copy of Knight's Modern Seamanship close at hand. For ship handling, working with tugs, salvage, mooring to an ice shelf, and helicopter operations, there are few better resources. First published in 1901, my 1972 edition is the sixteenth.

Of Heavy Weather Sailing I have previously written.

In 1934 my father was in the 8th grade at the Newman School, Lakewood, New Jersey. He was given this copy of Moby Dick as a prize for "Highest General Average." Years and years later, he had it rebound and gave the book to me. It too is illustrated by Rockwell Kent.

Next is a compendium of Joshua Slocum's Sailing Alone Around the World and Voyage of the Liberdade, London, published by Rupert Davis in 1948, with an introduction by Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame! The author dedicated Sailing Alone Around the World thus: "TO THE ONE WHO SAID 'THE SPRAY WILL COME BACK.'" Amen.

A Sea of Words is a "lexicon and companion for Patrick O'Brien's seafaring tales." I have not used it much.

Finally, Dutton's Navigation and Piloting, a 1969 edition. The book is the definitive treatise on those subjects, and I believe is still the text at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Nylock Danger

Nylock nuts, or aircraft nuts, have a Nylon insert in them so they don't loosen. They are useful but not infallible.

A friend of mine was sailing to Bermuda when, after five days on the starboard tack, his windward upper shroud came adrift. He made it to Bermuda but he had to carry shortened sail.

The hounds - upper terminus - of his shrouds were at stainless steel tangs, as is typical. The tangs on both sides of the mast (port and starboard shrouds) were secured with a single big bolt passing through the mast, good and strong. But the bolt was secured with an Nylock nut and in due course the nut was able to work loose.

Better the bolt had been drilled with a 3/64 (1.5 mm) hole, so a cotter pin could have backed up the Nylock.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vineyard Boats

There are two of these long rowing boats in Vineyard Haven, moored to buoys on outhauls off the beach. I think they race each other with crews of five or six.
This is the great topsail schooner Shenandoah, built in the 1960's and used to carry passengers on week-long cruises. She has her masts and bowsprit out.
Soon I will liquidate my assets and buy this tiny freighter and carry cargoes wherever they take me. I'll outfit the wheelhouse and accomodation just so and it will be a wonderful life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In a Flowerpot

Edgartown, at the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard, was the home of many successful shipowners and ship captains. Their grand houses, aligned not to the street but to the view of the outer harbor, line North Water Street.

Captain Thomas Milton brought this tree (Sophora Japonica) back from Japan in 1837, as a seedling!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Old Boats

This is the 55 foot (15 meter) Sparkman & Stephens yawl Kestrel, once a famous ocean racer, built about 1950. I saw her on the ways at Martha's Vineyard Shipyard and pulled over for the picture. I stopped in the yard office to ask about her and immediately got the close attention of a yacht broker. My distinct impression is that no reasonable offer would be refused.

What happens to old yachts? The wooden ones do better than glass boats. Not every wooden boat can end up in the collection of Mystic Seaport, but is it so bad to end one's days as a rotting planter, or in a decaying cradle in a grassy boat yard, soon to return to the soil from whence one came?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Woods Hole

The ferries for Martha's Vineyard depart from Woods Hole. Wood's Hole connects Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound, and a ferry captain told me he has seen eleven knots of current in the strait! I take Journeyman through Woods Hole from time to time and I am always very careful. It is the kind of passage where everything can be going just fine and then a little engine trouble or an awkward crossing happens and suddenly you are in real trouble. Lots of wrecks and collisions in Woods Hole.

Woods Hole is one of the world's great centers of oceanographic research. It is home to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, the Bigelow Laboratory, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the Sea Education Association (R/V Westward and R/V Cramer), and Coast Guard Group Woods Hole, a major base. It's a salty place.

The town is beautiful and full of wonderful nautical details.

I love this sundial on the waterfront, complete with a correcting table. (I tried it, and it is accurate.)

I also saw the most wonderful houseboat. Who wouldn't want to live here?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

To The Vineyard

Apologies for missing today's post . . . Tomorrow I am headed to Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts and a center of wooden boat building. If you are a regular reader of this site, you know that I have spent many happy days there, fishing and boating and growing up. I promise some good posts showing the winter boat scene on the Vineyard, boats a-building, and more - stay tuned.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Best Knife

When I was a teenager I taught sailing, for several years for Offshore Sailing School, and then on my own using my father's Soling. One of my students came to be Jos, Joslin I think, whose last name I can't recall. He and I sailed a lot together and his preference was for long sails, as in Edgartown to Menemsha, say 30 miles. Jos was much older than me, perhaps as old as thirty, or even thirty-five! He smoked cigarettes and always brought a thermos of European black coffee, the latter exotic then, and I enjoyed both on those long, long sails.

Jos was an artist in metal. He cast abstract sculptures and lived in a cottage supplied by his patron, a wealthy New York City woman with a waterfront place up island. Jos did know metal and at the end of that summer he presented me with a knife he had made. He bought the Morseth blade, and explained to me that it is layered so that the backbone of the knife is very strong and tough while the edge is made to stay sharp. Perhaps you can see the layers in this photo. He made all the rest of the knife, including the Micarta handle, and he engraved a sentiment on the end of the handle. I keep this knife in the pocket of my car door.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Knife redux

Here are a few of the other knives that are part of my life. To the right is a Swedish knife I keep in a sheath screwed to the bottom of the caddy just inside Journeyman's companionway. It snaps into the sheath, very secure, and is really sharp. Its serrated edge will cut even heavy, wet rope, and it handles limes with aplomb.

The next is a Laguiole knife from southern France, the gift of my father. The area around Thiers is famous for these knives and has been for centuries. The knife has a highly polished long thin blade, horn grips with brass inlay, and intricate figuring, including the emblematic bee. The sheath is tanned cowhide, beautifully sewn. I keep this knife at work and use it to cut oranges at lunch.

Doesn't every boat have a rough knife that can be, for example, heated at the stove and used to seal rope ends?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


A friend's grandfather used to tell him, as a boy, "A sailor without a knife is like a whore without a" you know what. Profane words indeed to a nine year old lad, but true.

I like knives - have generally carried one and almost always have one on my belt when under way. I don't think much of carrying a knife in one's pocket - how quickly can you get at it in an emergency? And what if you are wearing foul weather gear? When it is blowing it is particularly important to have a knife at hand, and good luck to you if your knife is in your pocket under your foul weather pants.

On the right is my father's knife. He doesn't sail much anymore and he gave it to me. I cleaned it and oiled it and put a sharp edge on it but I don't carry it, just keep it in my gear box on Journeyman, a talisman.

The knife is traditional as of say thirty years ago. It has the peculiar blade shape of an old fashioned rigging knife, a shape I believe was intended to cut rope with a mallet rap on the back of the blade. It has a marlinspike, which can be pretty handy, and the oval cut item is a shackle wrench. My father used to keep his knife on a lanyard attached to his belt loop, and he and I argued about whether that was a proper way to keep a knife, for I felt it hindered his ability to reach way out to make a cut, or to hand the knife to a man who needs one right now. Don't think we ever settled that one, or a good many others besides.

My last couple knives have been Gerbers with a three inch blade, locking. The knife costs less than lunch, beer and a tip, it takes and keeps a good edge and the blade is sturdy enough to take some abuse. The sheath is a swiss army knife sheath with the flap cut off - you can see where the snap closure was riveted (I drilled out the snap). I used to buy the sheaths at LL Bean but Bean may not carry them anymore - I bought the last one at Freeport Knife.

After I have cut off the flap I soak the sheath in water overnight. Then I put the knife in and wrap the sheath in sail twine to really bind it. When a few days later the sheath is dry, the knife has molded itself into the sheath. The knife won't come out if you are underwater or upside down but it is right to hand in an emergency, without even a flap to unsnap. That's my kind of knife.

The sail twine is handy for keeping a sail needle or two, see detail.

Last year my nephew spent a semester on the Cory Cramer, a school ship. When my sister consulted me on his gear list she passed over the knife, saying "he has a swiss army knife."

Those are very good knives in their way but no nephew of mine is going to sea with one. I bought a Gerber and the sheath, brought the blade to a razor with my Washita stone, made up the sheath as described, wrapped it in a kerchief and mailed it to the boy. Sweet! I hope it didn't get seized at transport security on his flight home.
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