How high’s the water?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Floating bar proves nothing’s impossible

By Dale James / Selma Times – Journal

Like any engineer worth his salt, Max Tezanos enjoys a good challenge. He’s fond, in fact, of saying &uot;nothing’s impossible.&uot;

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So when he first saw the spit of land jutting into Beech Creek, at the foot of what is now Max’s Landing, his mind began to toy with the possibilities.

One problem, however, presented itself almost immediately: the area suffers from frequent flooding, especially in rainy weather. Or when the Army Corps of Engineers attempts to &uot;manage&uot; the river levels.

According to the Corps of Engineers, the area in question lies some 80 feet above sea level. But Tezanos says the area is not considered to be flooded until the water rises an additional 28 feet.

Because he and his wife, Renae, enjoy life on the river, Tezanos wanted to build a place where other boaters could come and get something to eat and drink, maybe pick up some bait before heading out for a day of fishing, or just relax and enjoy the view.

The bait shop sits atop a bluff, so it’s safe from all but the worst flooding. But as Tezanos considered what to do about the flooding on the spit of land, his options seemed limited.

He could build a structure tall enough to sit above the floods, but he quickly realized that &uot;to be able to accommodate the floods we get out here I’d have to build a skyscraper.&uot;

For a time he considered constructing a mobile home with floats, but dismissed that idea out of hand. Serving drinks out of the back door of a floating trailer hitched to the nearest tree wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.

Then he recalled seeing several buildings that were constructed to &uot;float&uot; up poles attached at either end. As the flood waters rose the buildings inched up the poles. As the waters receded the buildings eased back down the poles.

A marine engineer by trade, Tezanos once worked for the insurance conglomerate Lloyd’s of London, calculating the stresses involved in moving giant offshore oil rigs.

Calculating the stresses involved in constructing a floating building, he reasoned, should be a snap. &uot;This whole thing started out as an engineering challenge,&uot; he confesses.

Friends warned him it couldn’t be done, but Tezanos persevered. As a marine engineering student he once spent an entire year at sea aboard a converted World War II troop transport, traveling to exotic ports of call in such far flung places as Russia, Portugal and Africa.

After graduating, he abandoned a life at sea in favor of the easy money to be made in the petrochemical industry. When the economy and depressed oil prices made that choice less attractive, he switched to the power generator field.

He’s been in Selma since 1996, working on gas turbines for International Paper. It was there that Tezanos met his wife. &uot;It’s kind of funny how things turn out,&uot; he says.

After &uot;a lot of calculations,&uot; Tezanos was ready to put his idea for a floating bar to the test. &uot;The Swamp&uot; opened in March 2001.

Gesturing at the walls of The Swamp, Tezanos says, &uot;Everything you see in here my wife and I built ourselves – the tables, the chairs, the decorations. All of it. We put our hearts into this place. We have the cleanest bathrooms in Selma. We even have hot water on the left side. Have you ever noticed how few bathrooms have that anymore?&uot;

The first time the river started to rise, Tezanos held his breath. Would his calculations prove correct? Onlookers and curious bystanders gathered atop the bluff beside the bait shop.

Since then, floods at The Swamp have become almost commonplace. &uot;Our last bartender actually got seasick,&uot; he says.

When the river climbed its banks back in December, Tezanos and his wife even slept there a night or two.

Already Tezanos is looking for his next challenge, but he’s not worried about The Swamp.