I still haven’t found the perfect sailor’s knife. Maybe that’s because so many of the knives are “almost good enough” that people don’t put any economic pressure on the development of a perfect knife. Maybe it’s because so many people have so many different wishlists for a knife used for sailing. Maybe because there is no one perfect knife for everybody or everything.
But I don’t expect my knives to be everything at all times. And while I can find a nearly perfect, if not truly perfect, knife for every other function for which I need knives, the one function I haven’t (yet) found a knife that’s even 90% perfect is the knife I carry on my person while actively on watch, while under sail.
And I know exactly what I want out of that knife.
- It is a folding knife because straight knives catch on things as I scramble around the deck.
- It has a handle that is easily gripped when wet, whether rubberized, textured, or a combination, I don’t care.
- The handle has a good quillion so a wet hand does not easily slide forward into the cutting surface when pushing the blade. It gets style points for a crisp thumb rise as well.
- When the knife is closed, it handles with a solid and definite feel in the hand, slides in and out of pockets and belt cases easily, and is 100% safe to all other object that may be in that pocket.
- It has a strong sheepsfoot straight-edge blade that opens and closes quickly and easily with one hand, without looking, and without needing fingernails whatsoever. A blade that just flicks open, and positively and definitely locks. The blade is strong, thick spined with a hollow grind, and it can be hand sharpened but will keep a good edge and have good resistance to seawater during those multi-day bad weather passages when I cannot get around to cleaning / oiling / servicing it for days on end after good soakings.
- The knife also has a locking marlinspike which is of a rounded rectangular cross section instead of circular.
- This marlinspike has a good sized shackle key which can be used on all of the major sizes of shackles used for headsails and jib tacks.
- The lanyard attachment is on the marlinspike end of the knife, giving maximum reach with the blade and reducing the fouling of the lanyard around the blade when the blade is open, and is an ergonomic extension of the handle rather than a bail.
- The construction is solid, simple, and extremely durable. The knife is likely to be used as a prybar in certain circumstances and it holds up to abuse well. The pin, the frame around the pin, and the lock mechanism are all designed with these stresses in mind.
- As a result, this knife is not the lightest or thinnest knife in the world. But it’s thin and light enough to be comfortable carried in shorts pockets and in chest pockets of jackets, underneath a vest/harness.
I’d pay a substantial amount of money for a knife that meets 100% of these criteria, but I need it to be affordable enough that I can own more than one in the event a lanyard breaks or one is misplaced or stolen.
Note that many “mariners” knives meet a portion of these criteria. The one they fail at most reliably is the area of easy one-hand opening and closing, including a safe locking mechanism. This is absolutely non-negotiable for me, as I firmly believe in “one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself”. I’ve seen a knife or two that met most of these criteria but substituted pliers for the shackle key, which is a bulky and often clumsy exchange. Another problem is that many of them put the shackle key on the blade, which seems a fairly useless place for it, as you cannot comfortably wrap your hand around it when closed to give a good twist. And when you do need the leverage of flipping it out, there’s the whole problem of sharp blade exposed when not necessary, often in close proximity to your face in the case of a main halyard or topping lift shackle. You can guess what I think of that.
There is also a whole generation of nearly perfect one-hand-openers which don’t have either a marlinspike nor a shackle key. I love these for their singlemindedness, but on deck I find myself needing the marlinspike or shackle key in equal or greater proportion to the knife blade throughout a year.
Don’t get me started on the leatherman series of tools. While I love my leatherman for project work, it is definitely NOT an immediately useable one-handed tool for deck work, particularly in the knife department.
Interestingly, once I was able to put down what I wanted on paper and given another search on the Internet, I think I’ve found the closest match yet: the Boye sailing knife. It’s said to have great one-hand opening of both the marlinspike and the blade, the shackle key is on the marlinspike, and the best part ever is that the whole thing is dendritic cobalt - light, strong, and keeps a great edge whilst still allowing easy sharpening. I’ve immediately ordered one and will let you know after some time how it turns out.