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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