Nurse travels 35 hours by sailboat to treat coronavirus patients in New York City

·5 min read

Just a few months ago, ICU Nurse Rachel Hartley thought she would be a graduating nurse practitioner moving into a new home with her husband in their state of Virginia. Little did she know, she would actually be living on a boat in New York City while working on the frontlines with COVID-19 patients.

In early April, Hartley was working as an anesthesia pre-op nurse in a Virginia hospital, but with elective surgeries being canceled, she was working fewer and fewer shifts until there were none. Meanwhile, the news of the devastation in New York City was unavoidable, and with years of ICU nursing experience, Hartley couldn’t shake the feeling that she could help.

“The day that Governor Cuomo took away the need for a nurse to have a New York state license to practice here really hit me hard.” Hartley tells Yahoo Life, “I knew New York was in a dire crisis, and I thought, I need to go. I need to leave Virginia and come to New York City.”

Hartley and her husband Taylor landed on an unconventional plan - they would sail their 50-foot sailboat from Virginia to New York and live on board during their stay.

“To be able to bring our own house essentially on the water just seemed like a safe way to have a living space here in the middle of the pandemic.” Hartley shares.

She connected with Patrick Overby, a nursing recruiter with Fusion Medical Staffing, and within a week of signing a contract with NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, they were setting out on their 35-hour sail from Virginia to New York City.

Rachel & Taylor Hartley with their boat at ONE15 Brooklyn Marina
Rachel & Taylor Hartley with their boat at ONE15 Brooklyn Marina

On her first day working in the ICU, cases were peaking and the hospital was overwhelmed with sick and dying COVID-19 patients. Hartley says not being able to allow loved ones to come and visit their gravely ill family members has been the hardest part. “When patients are dying, having to face time a family member to say goodbye, I mean that's something I never ever thought I would be doing.” Hartley shares, “I never want to have to do that again.”

Hartley says the fact that their boat is so spacious has allowed them to bring other travel nurses who want to join in the same mission. An ICU nurse from Ohio, Tom Huling, is also working with COVID patients at the same Brooklyn hospital and living on board the boat. “It’s been emotionally tough but so rewarding at the same time,” Huling shares, “I always had wished that I’d gone into the military, and I think this is the closest I’ll get to serve my country in this kind of way. I’m proud to be here and proud to help this city.”

Hartley’s husband Taylor is the captain of their boat Turning Point, and says that taking care of their home on the water is a full-time job, but one that he’s happy to do to help support the nurses on board.

Hartley says none of this would have been possible without ONE15 Brooklyn Marina, which reopened their doors to host them free of charge. The Marina and their restaurants The Estuary and The Ebb & Flow Cafe, are also helping by raising money and feeding front line workers during the pandemic.

“I've been floored by the support of New York.” Hartley tells Yahoo Life, “Just the outpour of the community and the local restaurants. You know, they're suffering in this time, but still they're giving out of what they have.”

Hartley’s contract at the hospital ends in early June, but says she would be happy to stay longer to continue to treat coronavirus patients, and the view from the boat doesn’t hurt either. “Waking up and every time we come out of our companionway, the view of downtown Manhattan is absolutely stunning. It’s a dream”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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