Charles Starke is setting sail, camera in hand

Charles Starke is setting sail. And it’s not just into his retirement.

Just weeks after leaving his career as a practicing physician, the longtime internist is hitting the high seas.

For now is the time that Starke — no longer seeing patients in his Briarcliff Manor office or at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow — can devote himself to two of his passions, sailing and photography.

Those are topics that bring a smile to his face, whether it’s on a recent morning when he’s touring a visitor through the 150 or so travel photographs he’s donated to Phelps over the past decade or showing off his 47-foot yacht a couple of weeks later at a Stamford marina.
WAG’s first introduction to Starke might have been via email — but his enthusiasm has been evident from the start.

“My significant other and I plan to live on our boat and sail the world,” he writes us in our first communication. “I have my captain’s license and have been ship’s physician on 44 cruises to places like Antarctica (three times), the Bering Sea and Siberia (twice). Whisper, a boat I crewed on, finished first in class in the 2005 Rolex Transatlantic Race from New York to Cowes, England.”

Of course, we want to know more.

His sailing days, he shares during the visit to Phelps, go back to college at Princeton University.

“I just learned how to sail on the lake, little spurts here and there,” he says.

The Manhattan-born Starke would go on to earn a master’s degree at the State University of New York at Stony Brook before receiving his medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and completing his residency at Georgetown University Hospital.

He practiced for a few years in the city before going into private practice in Westchester in 1981.

It was fulfilling, to be sure, but Starke wanted to keep his hobbies alive — and found a most clever way.

“I started being ship’s doctor, and I started traveling,” he says, breaking into a laugh when he looks back on those journeys made possible by both his medical (and sailing) experience.

He is still amused that he was able to “get paid during my vacation.”

His captain’s license, he adds, made him an attractive hire and he relished the journeys, camera in hand when he accompanied passengers on shore excursions.

The results have long been shared, from exhibitions at venues such as hospitals and libraries to “Footprints of Africa,” his 2011 book (Focus Publishing).

What he’s seen through the lens also continues to enrich those working at and being served by Phelps.
Some 10 years ago, Starke began donating large-scale framed photographs and has never looked back.

“Everybody says they love them, so it’s fun.”

Indeed, it’s hard to walk through the hospital for long — from treatment area to administrative office to waiting room to hallway — and not be transported to an evocative scene, whether it’s Amsterdam by moonlight, a child rehearsing a ceremonial dance on Easter Island or even a majestic tree holding court in the Rockwood Hall area of Rockefeller State Park Preserve nearby.

Starke readily shares how he got each shot, the trips and all kinds of details about the people, locales — and adventures along the way, even the time “a monkey jumped on my head in Gibraltar.”

Starke’s photography tips are also shared, such as what he thinks is the best time to shoot while at sea.

“You have to be at the edge of bad weather, or something interesting.”

Good weather, he adds, “just doesn’t cut it for a photo.”

Over the years, through both education and experience, Starke has developed his style.

“You have to have an eye for what’s going to look good.”

And that could be something as simple as the Hudson River scene he points to when we stop for a coffee in a small waiting room.

“Pretend the walls are not here. That’s what you see” just outside, in a scene captured on the hospital grounds.

Thanks to Starke’s generosity, those who visit Phelps will continue to be taken on journeys of all kinds, as he heads off for many more on the Dawnpiper, docked in Stamford where we meet up with him on another morning.

“This boat can go anywhere,” he says of the Holland-built Trintella 47, mentioning an upcoming jaunt to Cape Cod for a family reunion.

But, he has also hinted, travel much farther afield, to places not yet spoiled by heavy tourism, is also planned.

We’re intrigued — but the destination of future sails will remain Starke’s secret, it seems.

With a hearty laugh, he says, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

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