Captain’s Log: A Lifetime on the Water

Captain Helen Deitrick-Kovach is an accomplished boater and sewist. She grew up in a boating family and has been cruising the waters for 62 years. In 2004, she and her husband sold their house and moved aboard their 50-foot Marine Trader trawler powerboat. These liveaboards have logged thousands of miles and explored countless waters. In late 2018, they left the boat in heated winter storage for the first time in 16 years! Captain Deitrick took that time on land to complete an assortment of sewing projects for the trawler. She used her Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 to help her accomplish this huge sewing endeavor. Keep reading to learn more about this intrepid boater, her DIY philosophy, and what she loves about the boating lifestyle.

Captain Helen Deitrick-Kovach
Captain Helen Deitrick-Kovach

A Love of the Water

Boating and sailing have been a big part of Captain Deitrick’s life since early childhood. “I learned to sail at the age of 8 at a day camp on Rogers Lake in Old Lyme, Connecticut. We sailed Blue Jay dinghies. I acquired a 12-foot johnboat at the age of 10 and worked the inlets of the Connecticut River with my three lobster pots and pitchfork collecting longneck clams.” She spent high school summers sailing One Design boats at a local yacht club.

After college, she and her husband sailed their 28-foot S2 Performance Cruiser on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, at Western Carolina Sailing Club. “We used the boat as our weekend lake house and raced competitively in the PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet). We did this for 18 years until we purchased our Marine Trader trawler.”

When the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina, her husband went to work for Tow Boat US, and he needed a Coast Guard license. Their son knew he wanted to attend a maritime school, so they both attended Sea School in Charleston, considered to be the premier maritime training school in the United States. Upon completion, they received their 100 ton license with sail and towing endorsements.

Adventures on the Horizon

In 2004, when their son went off to college, the couple decided to sell their house and move to the coast. They lived aboard the trawler while their son attended Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, a four-year academy that graduates officers and engineers for the United States Merchant Marine and marine-related industries.

The 50-foot trawler came with a bit of a learning curve. “We used that time to get acclimated to the systems on the trawler.” The couple graduated from a sailboat with a single 9 horsepower Yanmar engine to twin 150 horsepower diesel Lehman engines, 12 batteries, 760 gallons of fuel, 360 gallons of water, a 50-gallon holding tank and five air conditioners — all packed into a 50-foot boat.

allez boat interior
A look inside ALLEZ! That’s a lot of boat to sew for.

They knew they wanted to be full-time cruisers, and so Captain Deitrick decided it would be prudent for her to get a captain’s license as well. “I did not need to have it to drive the boat, but the education was valuable. I knew how to drive, but docking and undocking required some learning. We took a shakedown cruise (in which the performance of a vessel is tested) in the spring of 2010 with our son on board to help me get the hang of it.”

They named the trawler “ALLEZ!,” which is French for “Let’s Go!” — a very fitting name given the couple’s wanderlust spirit. They have logged thousands of miles since purchasing the trawler in 2004. “She is a 1992 model wide-body and we are the second owners. We have lived on board for 17 years full time. We do not own a house and, until February 2020, we didn’t own a car either.”

In 2010, the intrepid travelers began cruising full time. They cruised all up and down the East Coast to the Florida Keys. In 2013, they started the Great Loop. “We took almost four years to complete the 6,100 mile trip.” The Great Loop is a system of interconnected waterways on the eastern portion of the United States and part of Canada. The Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways and the Rideau Canal are just some of the natural and manmade waterways that form the Great Loop. “We have been all the way up the Potomac to Washington, D.C., and have spent entire summers just cruising the Chesapeake Bay — 1,300 plus miles each summer exploring the rivers and small towns on the Bay. Because we live on the boat full time, we are pretty much always moving around.”

sewing bimini
Captain Deitrick works on a new bimini top using her Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine.

Sewing & DIY

Captain Deitrick taught herself to sew at the age of 10. She started out simple, making throw pillows, but soon moved on to garments including jumpers and skirts. “I graduated to more complex sewing projects like Vogue Patterns® and formal gowns. When I was at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, I became the lead student costumer for the theater department. After college, I made all my own clothes for my working career. When we purchased our S2 sailboat, I made sail covers, winch covers, and several boom tents and bow triangles for shade. I was called upon to make similar products for members of the sail club, for which I was paid. I like the independence that being able to do my own work affords me, as well as the ability to customize my projects.”

Over the last 18 years aboard ALLEZ!, Captain Deitrick has tackled numerous sewing projects for the boat. In her words: “If it is made of fabric — Sunbrella®, Phifertex®, Stamoid™, Naugahyde® or upholstery/curtain material — I have made it for ALLEZ!” Just a handful of the bounty of projects she’s made for the trawler include curtain panels, door panels, roll-up screens, handrail, grill and winch covers, and so many cushions. A 50-foot boat is a lot of space, and there’s a DIY project everywhere you look.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Being able to sew and having the machine on board at all times has been invaluable. I have also been able to take on projects for other boaters who need repairs or replacements and do not have the skill or inclination to undertake the project themselves.” Her most recent DIY was a new bimini for the upper deck. She chose Stamoid for the 12-foot x 15-foot bimini and used her Ultrafeed to tackle the project. “Every bit of material I have used on the boat has come from Sailrite®. Additionally, the supplies I have purchased for my projects for hire have all come from Sailrite as well.”

Captain Deitrick says the new upper deck bimini was her toughest project to date. “It was big and I had never used patterning material before. I had always just used the old bimini, but since it was a new design with adjusted rails it was different. Add to the fact that while we removed the fifth rail and adjusted the heights on the two intermediate bows, I did not have the luxury of walking all around the frame.” The mid-summer heat in South Carolina didn’t make it any easier either. Captain Deitrick had limited time to pattern the frame before the temperatures rose and the wind kicked up every afternoon. But the satisfaction and happiness of completing a big project just can’t be beat!

bimini
Captain Deitrick’s completed bimini. We think she did a great job!

A New Beginning

After almost two decades on the water, Captain Deitrick and her husband are bidding farewell to the liveaboard lifestyle. They’ve decided to sell the trawler and relocate closer to family. “We have two young grandchildren and want to be full-time grandparents, and that is hard to do when you are 1,200 miles away.” The couple have traveled and boated to all the places they wanted to visit, and they’re looking forward to this next chapter of their lives. They plan to continue traveling — this time by land. A bittersweet ending perhaps, but the memories they made aboard ALLEZ! are sure to bring smiles to their faces whenever they are missing life on the water.

allez marine trader trawler

Sailing With the Cloudy Bay Crew

For many, the idea of living aboard your boat and sailing the world is simply a pipe dream. It takes a lot of preparation and courage to cut ties with the land and jump into a life at sea. Glen and Oana Sansom decided years ago to devote their lives to sailing and traversing the open water. Along the way, they’ve had incredible adventures and even became acquainted with the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® Sewing Machine. 

DSC_0187x-1170x780

Glen is British and Oana is Romanian. They met in Bucharest while under the employment of the same international oilfield services company. Later, the two moved to Dubai and were married. In early 2016, Glen was offered an early retirement after 31 years in his field and Oana took forced retirement as requested by Glen. Like the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens! This catalyst prompted the two to reexamine their professional life — the long office hours and material ties. Both adventurers at heart, they decided it was time for a change.

Glen had been a sailing enthusiast in his teen years and Oana had begun sailing while in Dubai where the couple raced a J/22. It only made sense that they jump headfirst into sailing and start cruising exclusively following a trip to the Dusseldorf Boat Show. After months of extensive research, they finally found their dream boat! Enter Cloudy Bay, a Hallberg-Rassy 54 launched in Sweden in 2008. The previous owner had named her after a famous New Zealand wine and it stuck. And so the adventures of Cloudy Bay began!

DSC01138x-1170x805
Cloudy Bay in Gibraltar.

It wasn’t long before Glen and Oana realized that living aboard their boat required a certain level of self-reliance when it came to repairs. If you’re in the middle of the ocean and experience a tear in your sail, you better be ready to fix it! When it came to sewing, Oana was familiar with hand sewing and Glen had done some sewing in the past with his mother’s old Singer. They soon began researching for the ideal machine to have onboard and quickly settled on the Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1. “When we saw the Sailrite machine at the Annapolis Boat Show, the Ultrafeed was an easy purchase, along with all the materials and little bits needed to complete the projects we had in mind.” It was also critical to have instructional materials, so they quickly began utilizing Sailrite’s how-to videos.

“We started our various projects with the simplest and worked upwards in complexity. Our first project was making fender blankets ready for our transit through the Panama canal. The latest project, and the one we are most proud of, was a set of dinghy chaps. We templated the dinghy using shrink-wrap plastic then transferred the pattern to Sunbrella® material. We put strengthening pieces around all the protruding fittings and secured the chaps to the dinghy using velcro glued to the dinghy. It was the little things that made the difference. For instance, a tip made in Sailrite’s dinghy chaps video was to do the patterning with the dinghy slightly deflated. Then, when we finally fitted the cover and pumped to full pressure, the chaps fit like a glove! Other projects included side and rear sunshades for the bimini, putting six solar panels on top of the bimini and repair work to our aging dodger.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you spend all your time sailing, the world is your oyster. After purchasing Cloudy Bay in 2016, the couple cruised the Western Mediterranean. That winter they did a big refit in Spain, making all the necessary changes for circumnavigation. The next summer, they cruised the Eastern Mediterranean, then set off across the Atlantic in early 2018. After that, they visited the Caribbean Windward Islands, spent the summer of 2018 cruising the East Coast of the United States up to Maine, and then went back south again for another winter in the Caribbean. And that’s just the start of their travels! Thankfully, all of their trips have been aptly documented via their blog site, Sail Cloudy Bay, and their YouTube channel of the same name.

When it comes to committing to a floating home, Glen was happy to share some tips for potential cruisers. “First and foremost, it may look like an idyllic lifestyle, but all good things become the norm after a year or more. I would not want to discourage people, but I would say to try it by doing a charter or two before you commit too much. Don’t spend years preparing and spending, only to find it’s not for you. Of course, if you love independence, remote off-grid living and sailing, it’s a perfect life if you both like it. But if one partner enjoys it more than the other, there has to be some empathy and compromise.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Our compromise is to spend at least four months a year back at home, Oana’s home in Romania. Behind all the apparent fun and adventure, consider these points: the incessant movement of the boat, always getting wet when going ashore with the dinghy, needing to constantly be aware of the weather forecast, knowing that almost every day something will break, and that never-ending nomadic feeling of always being on the move. I would recommend always keeping a home somewhere other than the boat. Because you will want a break from it sometimes, and there is no place like home when that time comes. Another key piece of advice is above having a good seaworthy boat, it needs many of the home comforts too if you are to live on it 24/7/365. Otherwise, it’s like the difference between camping and glamping. And whatever the luxury of your boat, it’s never going to be up to living in a roomy, warm, dry, stationary house!”

Since their foray into the world of boating, Glen and Oana have been happy to share their experiences via their blog, social media and their YouTube channel. While they initially started documenting their experiences on video for family and friends, it quickly grew into a popular channel with over 16,000 subscribers. Their goal is to show real sailing and share cruising wisdom with their fans. They even filmed a video dedicated to their Sailrite projects! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While traversing the globe has its own set of challenges, Glen and Oana have also had to manage the global COVID-19 pandemic. For a cruiser, this poses its own unique set of hurdles. Glen was kind enough to share his experience with us. 

“For Oana it’s wonderful! She gets to have a longer break back at home with friends and family. Unfortunately, she suffers from seasickness, so six months at a time onboard is about her limit. Frankly, COVID has stopped us, and many like us, in our tracks. We should be halfway across the Pacific by now. Even restarting again this November looks unlikely. Most of the countries we need to enter either still have their borders closed or apply highly restricted movement. Add to that, we need to look at if/when we catch COVID ourselves, what is the probability that one of us would need hospitalization. Currently looks like about a 14% chance given our ages. That may be okay at home, where good hospital care is available, but those odds feel too high to venture to places where no hospital care, or limited care, is available. In summary, it looks like COVID will cause us to have a break, but things will get back to normal and it will prolong our adventure, which is a good thing (for me).”

IMG_5297

While current circumstances may seem daunting, this intrepid pair of adventurers isn’t letting anything keep them from enjoying life on the water. As soon as they’re able, they’re determined to continue their circumnavigation. When they do set off, they’ll be heading for Panama to start the Pacific crossing. Once across the Pacific and its many islands, they hope to spend some time exploring New Zealand. After that, there will be a trek to Southeast Asia, the islands of the Indian Ocean, the final leg up to Brazil and a trip to the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast of the United States. 

The cruising lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but if you can make it work it’s full of exciting adventures and countless lessons to learn. Self-reliance is key, and Sailrite is here to help you every step of the way. From our instructional videos to top-of-the-line sewing machines, you’ll have everything you need to excel. Glen and Oana are perfect examples of the ingenuity, tenacity and lifelong curiosity that makes for a worthwhile life at sea. Thanks for sharing your story with us, and we look forward to hearing more about the voyages of Cloudy Bay!

DSC05374-1170x878