The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Over the next few days, we'll be publishing more than 20 of their stories.

Drew O’Neill lives with his family in an old boat on the Homer Spit. The boat, known to many as the “pirate ship,” is a Homer landmark that regularly attracts attention from tourists. Photographed on June 19, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

HOMER — Living in an 86-foot World War II supply boat beached on the outer reaches of the Homer Spit can sometimes feel like living in a fishbowl, said one of its inhabitants, Drew O'Neill.

Strangers often weave through the small fleet of grounded vessels that are positioned like lawn ornaments on the surrounding 3-acre property. Some snap photographs. Some attempt to climb the structures. Some try to take a float as a souvenir. At least once, squatters moved into one of the vessels. Another time, O'Neill looked out his bathroom window while brushing his teeth to see a drone hovering.

But, O'Neill said, he wouldn't trade life on the historic boat turned private, year-round residence.

"It's worth it for sure," he said. "There's something that's romantic about being out here."

Drew O’Neill’s father-in-law, Bob Cousins, built a home on an old boat on the Homer Spit. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Drew O’Neill lives with his family in an old boat on the Homer Spit. (Marc Lester / ADN)

O'Neill lives on the wooden-hulled boat with his wife, Cassiar, their 1-year-old child, their niece and their nephew. He assumes many tourists who find themselves on the property think the boat is abandoned despite the curtains and decorations in the window and the grill outside.

"It's home sweet home," he said.

On this evening in late June, the rest of O'Neill's family was at a baseball game as he told the story about how the houseboat came to be.

It started in the 1990s.

His wife's parents, Bob and Judy Cousins, drove to Alaska in a big silver bus with their six children, the eldest who is now married to O'Neill. They purchased the 3 acres on the Spit and later the WWII boat, the Cape Lynch. Or, at least, the charred remains of the Cape Lynch. The boat had endured a war, a life at sea, numerous fires and an attempt to sink it, according to an article from the Anchorage Daily News archives.

During a high tide, the Cousinses floated the boat toward their land, O'Neill said.

Little by little, they built a bohemian, eccentric, three-story wooden home atop the boat remains. Bob Cousins collected the other vessels that surround it — some purchased, some donated. He had hoped to create a boat museum, O'Neill said.

"I wouldn't say my father-in-law is a hoarder, but he's definitely, you know, he's very resourceful when it comes to materials," he said. "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Eventually, Bob and Judy Cousins moved to Maine to care for ailing parents. They and their adult children continued to return to the boathouse, to stay for shorter trips. About two years ago, O'Neill and his wife decided to move in for good.

"We try to make it more and more livable as time goes on," O'Neill said.

The ship is crammed with furniture, books and artwork. Paintings are bolted to the ceiling. Flags hang in the windows. Various knickknacks cover the shelves. People in town call it "the pirate ship."

A family pet peeks into a window on the old boat where Drew O’Neill lives with his family. (Marc Lester / ADN)
An old bus sits near the boat where Drew O’Neill lives with his family. (Marc Lester / ADN)

O'Neill said he's proud to live here. He's also proud to have a part in carrying on the legacy of his wife's family.

Sure, he and his wife have to keep up with their home's aging body. The floors squeak. The bottom floor floods. Salty waves splatter the windows in storms. They must chop a lot of wood to keep it warm. They also must have water delivered and waste hauled out.

It keeps life interesting though, O'Neill said.

"The harder you work for things in life," he said, "the more you appreciate them."