Redding man gives children with cancer a day on the sea.
Tim Dokter looks forward to weekends. That’s when he brightens the world for seriously ill children, even if it’s just for a few hours.
The Redding resident takes the children and their families out on a private boat through Valiant Voyages, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2013.
During the rides, captain Roger Lancaster, who who owns the boat, runs the boat while Dokter talks with the parents and children.
“These kids have gone through a lot,” Dokter said. “This gets them away from their treatments and from everything they’ve been dealing with.”
The program is free to the families.
Ninety percent of the children who take the rides have leukemia or other serious illnesses. Many are undergoing such physically and emotionally taxing treatments as chemotherapy. The children’s physicians clear them to be well enough to take the trip.
The boat — named Violet — operates on weekends from April through the end of October. An average of 20 families ride over the summer months.
Violet leaves out of Dodson Boatyard in Stonington and sails on Long Island Sound, past lighthouses and along Fishers Island.
This is a completely volunteer job for Dokter, 68, who accompanies all children on the rides.
While on the boat, the children don’t just sit back and look out at the water — they play an active role.
“We encourage them to get involved,” he said. “They learn to sail and we teach them to steer the boat and help put the sails up.”
Violet is a 45-foot wooden boat built in 1911.
“It is a massive sailboat. It has four rooms downstairs,” Dokter said. “It was originally a fishing boat and was adapted to become a sailboat.”
Dokter sets up all the trips himself. Brochures about Valiant Voyages are at the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. Families whose children are receiving treatment there read them and then contact Dokter.
There are times when trips are canceled or rescheduled at the last minute because of bad weather or medical issues the children experience, such as a drop in their blood counts. “We are very flexible,” Dokter said.
Dokter said he has been able to support the organization himself, along with donations from friends. He plans to begin writing grants and contacting corporations in order to keep it going. While there is no cost for the rides themselves, there are costs for the maintenance and upkeep of the boat.
Background on the water
Dokter said he grew up on the water in Lake Michigan, and has been a diver and sailor his entire life.
“I help build boats,” said Dokter, a retired contractor and woodworker.
He also has a medical background. “I was a respiratory therapist after college and I got a chance to work with kids to see what they go through,” he said.
How it all started
Dokter said he knew he wanted to help children and thought he might be able to do so through his love of boating. “I love to teach and I love to sail,” Dokter said. “I contacted Smilow, met with the social workers there, and we set it up and got it going.”
Once he began sending out brochures, the organization picked up speed very quickly.
“It was just an idea I had and it took off,” Dokter said. “I plan to keep it going.”
Making a difference
Dokter said he is often touched by some of the things families tell him while on the boat. “A father will say to me, ‘I haven’t seen my daughter smile like this in a long time’ — that makes it right there,” he said.
He added that the children, many of whom are shy at first, end up loosening up over the course of the ride.
“They open up pretty quickly,” he said, recalling one trip on a sunny day a few summers ago when an 8-year-old girl said to him, “This is the best day I’ve had since I got sick.”…
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