Nelson Uzzell, the Man Behind the Mustache
Jen: You’ve been a resident of St.John since 1984. You’ve build a home, raised a family and seen a lot of change take place. Do you have a favorite mantra or motto that keeps you smiling?
Nelson: I have lots, but my current favorite is; “When the going gets weird the weird turn pro.” Hunter S.Thompson
Jen: I made a list of “identifiers” for you. Maybe you will agree with them, maybe you will take me to task or you might even want to add to the list. You are a sailer, a motorcycle enthusiast, a space station nerd, a lion fish exterminator, a builder, a wood turner and an excellent Dad.
Nelson: Well, I wouldn’t want to argue with any of those. Maybe I would add to that a that I’m also a big lover of nature. I am an ocean aficionado of any sort. That is part and parcel of being a sailor and a lion fish exterminator I guess but I would also add that I am lover of the coral reefs. The natural environment is always at the top of my list and whenever I’m in nature, is when I feel the best. Anywhere beautiful that’s natural is a wonderful thing and we need to preserve it and hang on to it for future generations.
“If we don’t show kids nature they’re not going to want to fight for it or preserve it.”
Responsible Building in the VI
Jen: So that’s sort of been a theme in your life hasn’t it? Your private vacation villa, Villa Equinox was conscientiously built in a very green manner, trying to preserve the natural environment as you went. For a long time it was totally off the grid and even now it’s very solar dependant. You’ve had your hand in building some of the most spectacular houses on St.John over the past 30 years, but Villa Equinox was built a little differently over a period of 20 years!!!
Nelson: Actually, I just got it finished yesterday (laughs).
Jen: It sounds like an absolute labor of love! Can you tell me what it is that makes Equinox so special?
Nelson: Well when I first started I was a lot younger and stupider and had a lot of energy, so I broke a lot of rocks on the property when excavating and I used a small machine and a sledge hammer. Because of that there was less impact on the land. In the process, I ended up with this huge pile of rocks and I thought…
“Why build my walls out of concrete blocks when I can use the stones I have right here.”
That’s how I got all of these beautiful stone walls around the property . Stone is pretty natural material and it was certainly local and definitely a green building material. But don’t delude yourself, every house no matter how green you build, has an impact on the environment. It’s like saying you are a “conscientious” polluter. There are certainly better, greener, friendlier methods for building that can be used and I did that when I built Equinox.
Jen: Knowing that, what do you think are the most important things to consider when a) buying a piece of land and b) building a dream home on St. John?
Nelson: Well hopefully people will come here with a conscious and build only what they need and not more. I unfortunately ended up building more than what I needed and now I really want to simplify my own life and downsize. I would hope that interested people would come with a 10 year plan and say “Ok my kids will be away at school and I don’t need that 4th or 5th bedroom“, and then build a more conscientious property. Big houses have big impacts on this little island.
Jen: That’s interesting because as a contractor that seems to be your specialty, building huge monster homes.
Nelson: Unfortunately it’s the nature of the people with the money and their architects. I’m a builder and I can’t dictate what I think people should build. But I will say that when we (Trayser Construction) are building, we try to do it as conscientiously as possible. For example, when we are excavating we always do double silt screens to help with erosion and runoff and we try our best to move things and not blast them.
Riding a Motorcycle in VI Conditions
Jen: You started riding motorcycles a few years back. What possesses you to ride on these roads perched on the back of a rocket with just a helmet and your good senses to protect you?
Nelson: I don’t know, I just get fun and pleasure out of it. I had a great motorcycle in my 20s. I had a group of friends that I would ride with in the mountains of North Carolina. Anyway, the opportunity came around for me to buy one here and I bought it cause I don’t have a wife or a kid around at the moment to tell me not too.
Jen: But St. John has very different riding conditions than North Carolina.
Nelson: Totally, it’s like riding a dirt bike.
Jen: Then tell me, what advice would you give someone who is considering renting a scooter or a motorcycle when they get here?
“Wear a helmut, go slow, don’t think you know how to ride these hills.”
Ride slow and easy on the path you’re taking and then maybe the next time you take that road go a little faster. Just don’t over do it. Don’t get yourself into a situation real quickly that you can’t get out of. It’s fun when it’s dry, but the roads can get real slick, real fast and you can find yourself on your ass really quickly.
Jen: With no shoulder or guard rail!!
Jen: You are kinda known in certain circles as the “Space Station Nerd“. If the Space Station is flying over head it’s not uncommon that a FaceBook post will pop up from you sharing that information with friends. How did this come to happen? Did you just notice one day that a star was moving and think, “hey, I wonder if that’s the Space Station?”
Nelson: I remember seeing something fly over head and I googled the NASA Space Station to find out more about what it could be. They have this thing called “Alerts for Your Area”. You enter the latitude and longitude of where you live and then NASA sends you an alert the next time it flies over. So I started sharing that information with friends and it turns out there are lots of people looking at the stars who are also curious about moving celestial objects.
Jen: The stars here are pretty spectacular. I haven’t seen stars like this anywhere else. When you have visitors at Villa Equinox, are there any particular apps or websites you recommend for people who want to star gaze or know when a meteor shower is happening in the area?
Nelson: Yah, there is an app called “Planets” and another one called “Star Walk” where you point your device at a large celestial body and it will tell you what it is you’re pointing at. I’ve learned by doing. I’ve always had an astronomical interest and
“when I was a kid I used to think that the astronauts were superheroes”
because I thought they were the bravest of the brave. The space station seemed like it was generally a peacetime sort of mission even if it was fueled by the cold war. It’s always been an exploratory thing and it’s helped so much in our current life with satellites, communication, TV, everything that’s come from space exploration has had such a huge impact on our lives.
Jen: Speaking of super heroes, if you could be granted a superpower what would it be?
Nelson: (Laughing) Beyond the X-rated?!! I’m pretty happy in my skin. I’d like to think I could live a really long time.
Best Beach and Snorkel Spot
Jen: What is the number 1 question you get asked from your St John vacation visitors?
Nelson: “How far is it to the beach?” and “What is the best snorkeling spot?” I always try to cater to who I’m talking to and what they need. Like for people who are adventurous, I send them to Water Lemon Quay for snorkeling, but people with little kids I would send to the rocks around Hawksnest. So you godda adjust your answers to who you are speaking to. I also don’t want to send people to busy places. Its not a good experience for them and the impact is not good for the beach either. Remember when all the bedlam and hooplah was happening in Francis Bay a couple of years ago with the Manta Ray and the Pink Flamingo showing up? I was real hesitant to send anymore people that way. Francis remains one of my favorite places and I want to keep it that way.
Raising a Family in the VI
Jen: Your daughter Lila was born and raised here on St.John. Besides her incredible parenting, how do you think this environment has shaped her?
Nelson: Oh wow, I think she is a total island kid. She is very open and is accepting of all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, race, age and education levels. I think that kids that grow up here just have a better all round attitude toward people compared to state side kids who seem to tend to stay within their own peer group. It’s a beautiful way to grow up.
For more information about Nelson’s vacation rental Villa Equinox and to check for specials click here.
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