Restoring Valor : A New Mission for a Veteran’s Vessel

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by Rebecca M. Alvin

“It was love at first sight.”

Commodore Adam R. Howard, a U.S. Navy service-connected disabled veteran, knew the moment he saw the Dutch boat modeled on Princess Beatrix’s own Royal Yacht in 2021, that he had to buy it. The boat was owned by fellow Navy veteran Tony Dziadzul, who served in Desert Storm, and it was in rough shape. Valor, which started its life in 1979 as Antje in the Netherlands, would ultimately require a six-figure investment in restoration and upgrades, but it was well worth the effort, not only because of the beauty of her lines, the richness of its history as everything from a trophy-winning wooden boat on Lake Michigan to a rumrunner in the Florida Keys to a shrimp boat, but because Howard had a very specific plan for the vessel. Valor would not be restored to be some rich guy’s private yacht, but rather to be a source of joy and healing for his fellow veterans, their families, and the disabled community at large, stationed right here in Howard’s home of Provincetown as the vessel for Project Valor Sailing.

All photos by Tony Dziadul

“So the idea here is I created this nonprofit with this boat,” explains Howard. “We’re going to be sailing veterans and disabled people and first responders, active-duty personnel, all for free. Okay, so how do you do that? Well, we’re going to have a sailing school, an academy on the water on this boat, which picks up right where West End [Racing Club] leaves off when their kids are 14, 15 and they’ve got no place else to go.” He also adds that anybody who wants to learn the art and craft of sailing and boating—maintenance, machinery, ropes, everything related to it—will be able to take classes on the boat. In addition to the school, the boat will also be available for film shoots or private events, etc., all to make sure the free program is sustainable.

“We’ll be servicing veterans… [but] it will be available to the community for all kinds of activities and in support of the community,” he adds. “If it’s Helping Our Women want us to do a cruise for them, or if it’s the AIDS Foundation, I mean, whoever, we’re happy to accommodate and raise money to make sure that everybody—I want this boat to be everybody’s boat, in the sense that we try to take care of everybody with the boat… I want this to be like Provincetown’s flagship. I mean, Plymouth’s got the Mayflower—it should be here, but they’ve got it,” Howard laments.

Howard’s driving motivation is his deep connection to the veteran community as well as his love for Provincetown. He says he wants the boat to be a resource and that collaborating with other organizations in mutual support is also part of the plan. For example, the Provincetown VFW, which sold its building years ago, continues to meet locally and put on events for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Howard says he has offered the boat free of charge to them for their meetings in the warmer months, as one example of connecting to the worth others are already doing.

“I got banged up in the service. So, unfortunately, because that happened, I had to cut my obligation and my tour of duty short—it wasn’t my decision—which was very disappointing to me. So ever since that time, which was like 1978, I’ve been trying to find a way to be of service and to, you know, finish out what I had started. So, years and years went by, and I’d done a lot of work with veterans, veterans organizations, I worked a lot with national parks, all kinds of stuff. So, an opportunity came up; I stumbled into a little pot of money, and I saw this boat.”

Although originally from New Jersey, Howard’s connection to Provincetown goes back decades. “I got here in ‘84 and was here for a while and then I met somebody and of course chased him all the way back to Jersey,” he says with a faint smile. “I came back summers over the years and stuff, always wanted to get back here full-time at some point. And then he passed away in 2000. And then I was living down in Pennsylvania in like the middle of redneck hell, you know, Proud Boys country, before I said we gotta get out of here. This sucks. So we came back here.”

Sometimes being a member of these two communities is complicated. While most agree veterans require services and want to see them get more help after their service ends, divisive politics around American foreign policy and our cultural problems with toxic masculinity and violence can sometimes overshadow these issues and make dialogue difficult. Howard acknowledges this, but also sees a lot of support in the community here in this unique town.

“We’re completely apolitical. We’re not a political organization, we’re a service organization. We’re not interested in anybody’s politics or whatever,” Howard emphasizes. “I know that some people have a very dim view of the military and people running around with guns and stuff, but if it wasn’t for that, trust me, we would all be speaking German, or Russian. And the fact of the matter is, you know, the average soldier, sailor, whoever, they’re not making the policy, they’re just doing their job. So I mean don’t give them a hard time. You know, talk to your congressman, if you have a complaint.”

While he says joining the military was “ the smartest thing I ever did,” part of the reason for Project Valor is to use sailing as a therapeutic treatment for veterans with physical, emotional, and mental disabilities.

“So, me being service-disabled and having some issues around you know, PTSD—I don’t have any problem saying it—being on the water is a proven therapeutic modality for people. It’s what’s good: it’s fresh air, it’s exercise, it really reduces stress. It’s teamwork, team-building for a lot of guys and gals that were in the military… And so it really is helpful in that way.” In fact, the Veterans Administration has cited studies on using sailing for therapeutic purposes with great results,  particularly when compared with traditional therapies (such as talking therapy), which have a low rate of active participation in the veteran community for a variety of reasons. Something about activities on the water has been shown to reduce stress and help veterans in similar ways to traditional mindfulness practices.

“And the boat is going to serve as a floating veterans’ resource center, meaning that we’ll have all tons of literature onboard guiding people to services, everything from the Veterans Crisis Line all the way down to health care, benefits. We’re very involved with the VA rep up here,” he says. “We want to do outreach to the younger veteran community and get them engaged and involved. And one of the problems we have in the veteran community is that while there are tons of services and funds and programs out there— and the Congress and the VA do wonderfully in establishing all these programs—but they’re kind of lousy at letting people know about them.” He cites as an example an annuity he had been eligible for that he didn’t know about until he spoke to a VA rep and she gave him the details.

Although at press time it was unlikely the vessel would arrive in Provincetown in time for the Veterans Day holiday on Friday, November 11, Howard is determined to have it here this year, with plans for a larger event in the spring when the weather is more conducive to something on the water. “We’re going to be flying a Purple Heart flag from the boat. I’m not a purple heart recipient myself, but we will definitely be honoring the fact that you know, all gave some and some gave all, and we don’t want to forget that.”

The community has been incredibly supportive, he says, but there are still financial challenges to overcome. “It was in really bad shape at one time,” Howard says of Valor. “So literally, we replaced a lot of wood. We replaced all the iron with stainless, we’ve completely rebuilt the engine, all the systems and lines and hoses. New mahogany decking, mahogany cap rail, new sails… So I’d say we had an original goal of a $150,000 project, including purchase price which was not too high because it was a little bit of a rough shape, and I think we’re just about $25,000 short of that right now to finish everything up, truck it here, and then, of course, the ongoing expenses of maintenance, keeping it in storage, and all that.”

It’s been a year-long restoration project but Howard promises the boat will be here definitely by Christmas, although due to weather this time of year, it will not be in the water until next season.

“Everyone’s very interested and everybody’s excited to see it. But it’s been in the ether for a year, and everybody’s like, ‘you know, where’s this boat already?’ It’s like, hey, it’s a slow boat to China. It’s coming. It’s coming!” he says. “ We want this to really be a feather in the cap for Provincetown, doing something for not only veterans but the disabled and first responders—I mean it really is a good, good program.

To donate funds, follow the restoration progress, learn more about Project Valor, and see updates on when Valor will arrive in Provincetown visit projectvalorsailing.org or follow the Project Valor Sailing Facebook page.