Bob Bocksel isn’t one to take on windmills (which he loves), but if he has an enemy, it wouldn’t be imaginary. It would be the wind.
Mr Bocksel recalled the difficulty the wind presented on that day in 2008 when the sails (also known as whips) were attached to his windmill on the Aquebogue farm he owns with his wife, Karen. The wind posed an even more serious problem on May 22, an exceptionally windy day.
Referring to a mulberry tree on the eastern edge of the property, Mr Bocksel said: “Every year I cut it down and…before the event happened I said, ‘I have to cut that tree down. I said, ‘He is about to enter the veils.’ I had it on my list and never got there. What happened was these gusts came in and they turned the sail and it got stuck in the tree and then the torque from her moving caused the sail to crack.
A wick, the large “arm” to which the sails are connected, got stuck in the tree and cracked. In two days, a sail ends up cracking and falling. The trellis, the grid to which the sails are attached with custom-made steel and iron brackets, was damaged.
The windmill basically suffered a broken arm.
“It was one of those weird things,” Mr Bocksel said.
Mr Bocksel was on a golf course with his son, Bradley, when his wife called with the bad news. “It was like losing a loved one,” he said.
Thoughts immediately turned to repairing the four-story hexagonal structure, which the Bocksels enjoy decorating with LED lights this Christmas.
A call was made to Dick Baxter, who restored windmills on the South Fork, but Mr. Baxter was too busy to take on the job. Mr. Bocksel wondered if he should do the work himself. Could he do it? Did he have the means?
He thought not.
It was a coincidence that Mr. Bocksel wore his cap with the windmill logo one day at a farmer’s market. The logo caught the eye of a woman, who tapped him on the shoulder asking questions. He told her about his windmill problems and she suggested he call Jim Kricker, who had been doing renovations on the 212-year-old windmill at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island.
It turned out that Mr. Kricker was retiring, but he recommended an associate, Amy Boyce, who could take on the project. About three weeks later, Mr. Bocksel recalled, Mrs. Boyce called him with good news. Sylvester Manor happened to have three replacement sails that had sat unused in a barn since the 1950s. Sylvester Manor, a non-profit whose mission includes historic preservation, didn’t need them.
Sylvester Manor Executive Director Stephen Searl has been contacted and an offer has been made. Mr Bocksel said: ‘I said, ‘Look, I’m obviously a big believer in what you’re doing. I’ve been to some of your fundraisers. I’ll tell you what, I’ll make a generous donation towards rebuilding your windmill if you’ll let me use the sails. [Mr. Searl] said, ‘I couldn’t think of a better use for them.’ So he said, ‘Of course you can have them.’ ”
Mr. Searl sees this as a win-win for both parties. “It just so happened that the timing was perfect,” he said. “They were in need. We had them. It was fate.”
The three sails, which act as propellers to capture the wind, were picked up in June. Arnold Golz of Old Wood in Mattituck was hired to reconfigure the three sails to fit the Aquebogue windmill and build another sail from scratch. Work is also underway on other parts of the windmill, Mr Bocksel said.
The Sylvester Manor Windmill has quite a history. Built by Nathaniel Dominy at Southold in 1810, it was moved to Shelter Island around 1840 and used until 1860 when technology overtook it. “By 1860 it wasn’t really in use anymore,” Mr Searl said.
He said the Sylvester family bought the windmill in the late 1800s and preserved it. In 1920 it was moved to its present location amid the working farm of Sylvester Manor. “It’s pretty iconic for the community, for the island and, of course, for Sylvester Manor,” Mr Searl said.
About four years ago, the Sylvester Manor Windmill was lifted again and placed on a foundation. It is undergoing a major renovation in the hope that it can be operational again for educational purposes. “It’s in amazing condition considering the age, considering the time and that’s why we can even consider making it functional again,” Mr Searl said.
During this time, you could say that Mr. Bocksel has invested blood, sweat and tears into making his windmill a reality. At the start of construction, he broke his wrist while working on it. Another time, while framing, a circular sawmill kicked him, causing a leg injury that required 31 stitches. He then joked that the windmill had cost him an arm and a leg.
Mr. Bocksel, who was unwilling to publicly disclose the cost of his project, may have first been captivated by windmills as a young man first encountering the Water Mill windmill. “It was an ‘oh my God’ moment for me,” he said. “So much that I stopped the car, got out and almost hugged him.”
Some 15 years later, he came across a windmill on a golf course in Southampton. He recalls, “I thought, ‘One of these days, one of these days. Maybe.’ ”
And now, one of these days, his windmill will be restored to its former glory.
“Hopefully I think before the end of September they will be back,” he said of the sails. “I can not wait.”
But above all.
“The next thing I have to do,” he said, “the most important thing is to chop down that tree.”