The Hartleys in Brooklyn, with Turning Points in the background. Photo courtesy of Taylor Hartley.

Va. Nurse Sails to NYC to Support COVID Patients

Rachel Hartley and her husband Taylor are used to taking friends and family out boating on the lower Chesapeake Bay, so it was a major change of destination and purpose when the couple decided to set sail for New York City.

They took the leap so that Hartley could help patients afflicted by COVID-19. Hartley, an anesthesia pre-op nurse in Lynchburg, recalls watching national coverage of the pandemic with her husband, a photographer, as it began to unfold in early March.

“I was seeing a cry for help from NYC for ICU nurses,” she tells Bay Bulletin. “A myriad of travel medical companies had reached out to me, asking if I could come to NYC for a COVID response contract.”

The couple wanted to be of service and made the decision to set sail over Easter weekend. With the exception of Taylor delivering Turning Points, the couple’s 50-foot Beneteau Cyclades, from Florida to Virginia and a trip he and Rachel made from the Keys to Fort Pierce, the Hartleys’ cruises have mostly been on the southern Chesapeake, with Bay crossings to Cape Charles being one of their favorites.

For the trip to New York City, Taylor says they had an extremely narrow weather window. Although a significant squall was expected to hit the city that Sunday evening, “considering that she (Rachel) had responsibilities here (in New York), and we were bringing another nurse on board (upon arrival), we had to get where we were going,” he says.

Leaving before midnight on Good Friday, Taylor, Rachel, a sailing friend, and several family members began the nearly 260-nautical mile trip to Brooklyn. Despite the first 24 hours throwing 20-25 knots and
some unfavorable conditions their way, the trip culminated in what Taylor describes as a “storybook ending.”

“A host of dolphins accompanied us as we passed Sandy Hook and turned into the harbor,” Rachel recalls. “In view of Lady Liberty, we were filled with anticipation and eagerly radioed ONE15 Brooklyn Marina to
arrange our arrival. It was about 11:30 Easter Sunday as we arrived.”

Now Rachel, Taylor, and another nurse are all living aboard while she offers care and support at NYU Langone Health. Their temporary new home “is really amazing,” says Taylor. The marina and its on-site restaurant and bakery have been provisioning the group with food, slip accommodations, electricity, and the use of other amenities at no charge. Taylor ensures both nurses have plenty of food and support before and after their respective shifts.

Estelle Lau, CEO Deputy of One15 Brooklyn Marina says the organization has been donating between 1100-1200 meals each week to city hospitals and first responder groups as well as hosting a home base for out-of-town and local first responders. Funding is provided by a Go Fund Me project and a variety of donations, says Lau.

Taylor is also thankful for the support they’ve received from their home marina, Salt Ponds Marina Resort in Hampton, Va. “They ushered us out of there with unbelievable kindness and grace, even though we’re mid-lease and they’re letting us come back.”

For Rachel, her day-to-day on the front lines has been difficult. “It’s hard to accurately put into words the chaos and devastation this disease has wrought on the city.”

But despite the many challenging and painful realities she’s witnessed and experienced, she says there has been improvement:

“We are very far from normal, though we are seeing progression in the right direction.”

“I’m super, super proud,” Taylor says of Rachel, who wanted to help despite the risks. “We believe strongly that our lives are to be a service to those around us and those who are experiencing great need, and so we saw this as an opportunity for her to live out what we believe we’re here for.”

-Laura Adams Boycourt