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Damaged Aquebogue windmill receives three sails from Sylvester Manor

Bob Bocksel isn’t one to tilt at windmills (which he loves), but if he does have an enemy, it wouldn’t be imaginary. It would be the wind.

Mr. Bocksel recalled the difficulty the wind presented that day in 2008 when the sails (also called whips) were attached to his windmill on the Aquebogue farm he owns with his wife, Karen. The wind posed an even greater problem this past May 22, an exceptionally windy day.

Referring to a mulberry tree on the property’s eastern boundary, Mr. Bocksel said: “Every year I’d trim it and … prior to the event happening, I said, ‘I got to take that tree down.’ I said, ‘It’s right about to go into the sails.’ I had it on my list and I never got to it. What happened was these gusts came up and they turned the sail and it got caught in the tree and then the torque from it just being moved cracked the sail.”

A stock, the large “arm” to which the sails are connected, got stuck in the tree and cracked. Within two days a sail eventually cracked and fell. The lattice, the grid to which the sails are lashed with custom-fabricated steel and iron brackets, was damaged.

The windmill essentially suffered a broken arm.

“It was kind of one of those freak things,” said Mr. Bocksel.

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 take pleasure in decorating with LED lights at Christmastime.

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 would have to do the work himself. Could he do it? Did he have the resources?

He thought not.

It was serendipitous that Mr. Bocksel was wearing his cap with the windmill logo on it one day at a farmer’s market. The logo captured the attention of a woman, who tapped him on the shoulder to ask about it. He told her his windmill woes and she suggested he call Jim Kricker, who did renovation work on the 212-year-old windmill at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island.

Sylvester Manor’s windmill, built in 1810, is undergoing renovation in the hope of making it operational again. (Credit: Courtesy of Sylvester Manor)

It turned out Mr. Kricker was retiring, but he recommended an associate, Amy Boyce, who might take on the project. About three weeks later, Mr. Bocksel recalled, Ms. Boyce called him with good news. Sylvester Manor happened to have three replacement sails that had been sitting unused in a barn since the 1950s. Sylvester Manor, a nonprofit whose mission includes historic preservation, didn’t need them.

Sylvester Manor executive director Stephen Searl was contacted and an offer was made. Mr. Bocksel said: “I said, ‘Look, obviously I’m a big believer in what you guys do. I’ve been to some of your fundraisers. I’ll tell you what, I’ll make a generous donation to your windmill rebuild if you let me use the sails.’ [Mr. Searl] said, ‘I couldn’t think of a better use for them.’ So he said, ‘Sure, you can have them.’ ”

Mr. Searl sees it as a win-win for both parties. “It just so happened the timing was perfect,” he said. “They were in need. We had them. It was meant to be.”

The three sails, which act like propellers to catch the wind, were picked up in June. Arnold Golz of Old Wood in Mattituck was hired to reconfigure the three sails so they fit the Aquebogue windmill and fabricate another sail from scratch. Work is also being done on other parts of the windmill, Mr. Bocksel said.

The Sylvester Manor windmill has quite a history. Built by Nathaniel Dominy in Southold in 1810, it was moved to Shelter Island around 1840 and used until 1860, when technology passed it by. “By 1860 it really was hardly used any more,” said Mr. Searl.

A 2008 News-Review story on the Aquebogue windmill.

He said the Sylvester family bought the windmill in the late 1800s and preserved it. In 1920 it was moved to its current location in the middle of Sylvester Manor’s working farm. “It’s quite iconic for the community, for the island and, of course, for Sylvester Manor,” said Mr. Searl.

About four years ago the Sylvester Manor windmill was lifted again and placed on a foundation. It is undergoing extensive renovation in the hope that it can be made operational again for educational purposes. “It’s in amazing condition considering the age, considering the time and that is why we can even consider making it functional again,” said Mr. Searl.

Meanwhile, it could be said that Mr. Bocksel has invested blood, sweat and tears into making his windmill a reality. During the early phase of construction, he broke a wrist while working on it. Another time, during the framing, a circular sawmill kicked back on him, causing a leg injury that required 31 stitches. He later joked the windmill has cost him an arm and a leg.

Mr. Bocksel, who did not wish to publicly disclose the cost of his project, may have first been captivated by windmills as a young man coming across the Water Mill windmill for the first time. “It was an ‘oh my God’ moment for me,” he said. “So much so that I stopped the car, I got out and I just about hugged it.”

Some 15 years later, he came upon a windmill on a Southampton golf course. He recalled, “I said to myself, ‘One of these days, one of these days. Maybe.’ ”

And now, one of these days, his windmill will be restored to its former glory.

“With some optimism, I think before the end of September they’ll be back up,” he said of the sails. “Can’t wait.”

But first things first.

“The next thing I have to do,” he said, “the most important thing, is cut down that tree.”