“Always keep a good sailing knife handy. You never know when you will need it” growled the Bo’sun. I was the youngest member of the crew of Sir Winston Churchill and at the time struggling to get to the ex MOD clasp knife buried deep under layers of oil skin in my trouser pocket. The Bo’sun was a rigger from Hull whose wisdom you ignored at your peril. But what is a “good sailing knife” and how do you “keep it handy”?
My ex MOD clasp knife kept a good edge but was prone to rust and difficult to open with cold wet hands. A souvenir from my Churchill days was a stainless steel “Curry Lockspike Bo’sun”. Though resistant to rusting it was also difficult to open with cold wet fingers. It did me well for many years, if I could remember which pocket I had left it in.
The macho riggers knife sets with sheath knife, marlin spike and pliers are not something the Police likes one to have “handy” ashore. We keep a boat’s knife and marlin spike secured by Daisy’s companion way close to the halyards and easy to reach from both cockpit and cabin. It is also useful for gutting fish.
My ideal combination travelling across Africa was a Swiss Army Knife in a belt holder with honing stone, sewing kit and pencil. Invaluable in the savannah for everything from opening bottles to mending radios and basic first aid. On my belt it was always “handy”. Returning home, as the old gun slingers used to say, I did not feel dressed without it. Society’s attitude was different. The standard size Swiss army knife is not an ideal sailing knife.
In his later years Dad had an Opinel No8, almost the ideal knife and it floats. I then found the Opinel No8 “Outdoor knife”. Like Dad’s only better with a serrated blade for cutting rope, a shackle key in the blade, a brightly coloured plastic handle with rubber grips and a built in whistle, easy to open even with cold wet hands, and a lock to stop it closing.
How to keep it handy? My old sailing shoes had deteriorated beyond even being fit for gardening, the nubuck leather was dry but redeemable with beeswax leather balm. An upcycling project was born. The tongue and upper when cut out was just the right size and shape to make a sheath. The perfect diameter to just grip the knife and long enough to hold the knife either open or closed. I fashioned a belt loop from some spare leather and stitched it all together with sail repair needles & thread. A leather shoe lace was platted into the knife lanyard with a snap-shackle at the other end. Just the right size to fit around my wrist or to clip the knife to my belt. Mounted on the belt of my life jacket it is always “handy”.
Beware:- Knives can be an essential tool for work or safety. On a boat they serve both purposes. In other situations the same tool can be an offensive weapons rightly controlled by law. The RYA guidance on knives and the law can be found here:-