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.

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“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

24 thoughts on “Captain’s Log: A Lifetime on the Water”

  1. What a wonderful story! My best to you both. Two Captains sharing charge aboard the same vessel – that’s an accomplishment in itself! LOL!

    1. Paul: Helen is the Captain. She drives, puts ALLEZ! On and off the dock does the navigation and cruise planning. She is a Gourmet Chef so I eat well. My job onboard is that of Chief Engineer. I keep all systems running and maintained. Engines, sanitation, air conditioning, generator, inverter, anchors etc. This arrangement has worked out well for us.
      On the great loop 6,100 Miles and over 100 locks plus bridge openings I have not touched the helm. Helen is also our AWLGRIP Paint Expert.

      1. I applaud and greatly respect the gumption it takes to embark upon and fulfill the dream they had. Most of us, specifically me, have settled for a far lesser version of our dreams. In my ownership of a 27 and 29 foot sailboat, I have touched upon a bit of sewing, with much cider, tho functional , results. And now to awlgrip or similar. Please wish me luck, and any tips you might be willing to pass on to us amateurs would be welcomed.
        Thanks for sharing your story and teaching us that it can be done if we wish it to be done.

        1. Barry – I love my AWLGrip paint but if you are painting outdoors you have to watch humidity, temperature, bugs and weather. Also as with any painting project preparations are critical. Use all the parts – primer, T170 wipe down and make sure you sand lightly between coats especially on vertical surfaces as runs hide where you lease expect them. I use foam brushes as I hate to clean bristle brushes – never get all the paint out and then have bits in the next coat. also I generally thin the first 2 coats 15-20% to make sure I get the coverage and flow I want. last coat is full strength. GOOD LUCK

  2. Have you written a book? You’ve left me thirsty for more about your extensive live-aboard experience!
    Thanks for sharing and best wishes to you and your family on your next chapter.

    1. Carol. Books? CAPT Helen has taken thousands of pictures and uploaded them to our computer. She using the mix book website and has created 8 books of our adventures using mix book templates and writing her text. Mix book prints the books hardcover coffee table books. You can literally do America’s Great loop in her books

        1. Carol these are hard bound coffee table books sizes 12” x 12”
          About 120 pages and average 1,000 to 1,500 great Color photos with text. Not Cheap but most coffee table books aren’t

      1. When you travel as Captain Helen indicated you were going to do, will you be called CLOD hoppers? (just a little humor here!! I enjoyed this story tremendously and understand wanting to be near the grandchildren. They grow up so fast you have to grab every minute with them you can while they are little. Enjoy every minute!

  3. Wonderful story, Captain—–I grew up in Old Lyme, sailed Blue Jays at the Pettipaug Yacht Club and was a camp counselor at Bill and Madelyn Belanich’s Rogers Lake Day Camp when I was in my teens. Probably slightly before you as I am now 78. Thanks for the memory jump start.
    You made my day—Tim

  4. Wonderful story. I bought myself the same machine in December, 2019. I have not used it to it’s capacity. Since COVID is here I recently retired. Looking forward to sewing . Hopefully sailrite will give some workshops. Love the boating stories. If I was younger!

    1. Bill – Pick your project and go to Sailrite’s video section. They have detailed how to on almost any project you might have for a boat or outdoor project. Good Luck.

    2. Bill I find age is a state of mind at 77. Sailrite has Great Instructional videos Helen could not have Completed the Bimini with out their video’s
      And when she had a few head scratching moments I told her watch the video again and at times told her to Call Sailrite. She did they do return phone calls and are there every step along the way. Fantastic customer support and tech support when machine acted up a few times
      Sailrite is a fantastic company

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