When a storm turned into a calamity in open water, Rob Sanford says his pocket knife saved his life. Despite his lifelong boating experience and all the equipment designed to keep him and his crew safe, “Had I not had a knife in my pocket, I would have died in the cabin of that boat,” he insists. “There would have been no way to get out.”
Sanford knew that to keep the boat from capsizing in a storm he needed to stay on top of the swells. Unfortunately, one of the ship’s outboard motors seized up, failing catastrophically just when it was needed most. The boat lost speed, and was overtaken by a huge wave behind it. Sanford retells what happened next: “We didn’t barrel roll, we kind of cornered to one side and then went motor over bow.”
“Now, you’re standing on the roof of the boat, and the boat immediately fills up with water and everybody goes against the floor, which is now the ceiling,” explains Sanford. It was at this point that one of the most crucial pieces of safety equipment became a liability – the life jacket designed to keep him afloat outside the boat now trapped him against the floor of the cabin.
Sanford was wearing an automatic life jacket, designed to inflate instantly when dunked in water. When the boat capsized it became a buoyant shackle around his neck, pinning him against the floor and away from the underwater exit. Luckily, the rest of the crew hadn’t been wearing them and quickly escaped the now-submerged cabin. “There would have been no way to get out of the boat, if everyone had put on their life jackets,” he said.
Trapped alone at the bottom of the boat as the last pocket of air filled with water, Sanford was running out of time. “..The raft, the spotlight, the handheld radio, the cellphone; everything is worthless when it’s pitch black, you’re upside down .. you’re against the ceiling which is the floor and you can’t get out.” Quickly, Sanford reached for his last tool: his Spyderco knife. He punctured the life vest, deflating it, and swam down and out of the cabin. “So this was the one piece of equipment that saved my life that day. This simple pocketknife. None of the other thousands of dollars worth of stuff,” he mused. Now, he’d never be caught without a pocketknife. “In fact,” he said, “I carry two now.”
Knife featured in image: Spyderco Delica