R/V Desmond Valdes under way.
On March 1st I was given an address and a location to go look at a boat. First off, I’m always going to look at boats but this one was special. It was being donated to the Lighthouse and I had been tasked with finding out more about it. After pulling into the storage lot and taking a quick gander, my eyes settled on a very nice Grady White over against the back fence that I identified as the donor vessel. Approaching more closely I noticed that a much larger and beefier Grady White next to the first one. My eyes had to re-adjust a bit as I realized that this larger boat was, in fact, our subject.

The story really begins a couple of week earlier when Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, was approached by John Valdes, of John Valdes and Associates Inc., to discuss the possible donation of a boat. Mr. Valdes’ company is a contracting firm focusing on renovations to historic structures and houses and most recently completed the renovation of one of Henry Flagler’s fountains as a donation to the city. Many other historic and attractive buildings around town have also been renovated by the Valdes family, such as the Villa Rosa or the Casa Blanca Bed and Breakfast. Nonetheless, the company, like LAMP, pays particular attention to history and helps to preserve it for our beautiful city.
John Valdes’ interest in local history brought his company and LAMP together. The family has a particular interest in the region’s history and John is well aware of St. Augustine’s maritime past. He thought that a boat that he had purchased about nine years ago along with his brother, Desmond Valdes, could help us in our mission to complete maritime survey and archaeological diving. And so the donation was made. The boat is a 1989 Grady White Gulfstream 232. She is powered with twin 140hp Johnson outboards and has a beam of 9.5’. Overall, the boat is 29.3’ in length, including the bow pulpit and engine platform mounted to the transom.
First day back in the water, beginning sea trials.
Grady White, one of the oldest boat manufacturers still in business, began building boats in Greenville, North Carolina in 1959. Their characteristic look, seaworthiness, and dependability has grown quite a following of fans and generated a reputation for being well-founded and safe. In production since the late 1970s, the Gulfstream 232 is well laid out for offshore fisherman and scientist alike. Her roomy cabin can easily be streamlined to hold survey equipment, dive gear, or other sundry storage. The walkaround area, while not excessively wide for the feet, does offer good handholds and railings to stabilize yourself. The factory hard-top over the helm had been extended by the Valdes family to cover most of the work deck and the rails for this provide great handholds for working around the transom.
When we first picked up the Valdes it was taken to the field house for temporary storage and to asses what it needed to get seaworthy. There was a bunch of old gas in the two tanks which needed to come out, the whole boat needed a good cleaning, but overall there was nothing too big to tackle that would keep her from the water for long. After some initial survey, we moved the boat to St. Augustine Marine Center where Bill Parmer (of Rapid Marine Repair, Inc) began to get her mechanically sound. The only semi-major repair was replacing a steering arm on the starboard engine. The original one had electrolyzed down to a bare shadow of its original self and was prone to snapping. Otherwise, both engines got their carburetors rebuilt, were compression tested, some hydraulic lines were replaced, and a general tune up was performed.
Taking her out for a test!
Her first sea trial was on April 30th. Cpt. Dick Orsini, Cpt. Rob Mitchell, LAMP volunteers ‘Tank’ Brunswick, and Christine Fredericks were on hand. We put the boat through her paces and each of our volunteer captains got a chance to familiarize themselves with the boat. Our route for the trials was out Salt Run, to the St. Augustine sea buoy, back into town under the Bridge of Lions, and then back to the Lighthouse boat ramp. Not exactly the longest and most strenuous course but long enough for each of the drivers to get a turn at the helm.
The next step was to have the LAMP logo and vessel’s name printed up. Vinyl Decals by Randy Minnix donated their services and prepared some really nice lettering for the name and decals with both the LAMP and Lighthouse logos. A folding flag pole was also rigged to provide a place to fly the alpha flag, dive flag, and lighthouse pennant.
When Nina and Pinta arrived in St. Augustine the Valdes got her first opportunity to shine and perform. Desmond Valdes II joined us for the day’s event and we loaded members of the press onboard at the City Marina for a quick jaunt up to Fish Island Marina where the caravels were docked. When the caravels departed for their one mile run to City Docks the Valdes was on hand as a chase boat and to act as a platform for photographers.
Desmond Valdes II at the helm (L to R), LAMP Director Chuck Meide, me, Cpt. Rob Mitchell.
Since then, weather has prevented survey but as soon as the current northeaster clears away we’ll be back out on the water. Steve Schuyler, who has a dock on Salt Run, has been most generous in letting us keep the boat at his dock. Many thanks Steve!
Despite the wet start to the field season we are gearing up for a busy and exciting one. Keep posted as we move into field mode and summer practicum gets under way!
As she looked this morning, dejected in the rain and itching to get back out. The feeling is mutual!