Some people might have seen melted aluminum, charred wood and a hull filled with disgusting muck. Not Patrick O’Neill. In October 2016, when O’Neill saw the “for sale” sign on what was left of the Odic, a Bristol Bay fishing boat, he saw what it could be.
His first step, however, was sharing a sketched version of his idea with Nathan and Adam Traugott of Glenn’s Welding.
“Together they said, ‘you know, we think we can make something happen. Let’s go for it,’” said O’Neill.
And so he did. And they did. And so did a lot of others in Homer’s marine trades community.
“I could see the creativity and eagerness in Nathan and so I basically verbally agreed on a price, shook his hand and went to Bali,” said O’Neill of his faith in Glenn’s welding to get the rebuild headed in the direction he wanted it to go while he went on vacation.
O’Neill’s clear vision was shaped by a long history in Alaska’s fishing industry. His grandfather, Raymond George O’Neill, fished with Bristol Bay sailboats. His father, Raymond Patrick O’Neill, grew up fishing setnets and then moved into the drift gillnet fishery. O’Neill began fishing with his father when he was 8-years old and has experience in Copper River, Prince William Sound, various herring fisheries and Bristol Bay.
After a 15-year break, he was drawn back to fishing by his “love of the people and the community aspect.” In addition, “I’m almost 50 and I’ve got to do something that keeps me in shape,” he said.
Upon returning from his six-week trip to Bali, O’Neill discovered the Traugotts were as good as their word and had created something that “matched (his sketch) quite well.”
O’Neill took on much of the remaining work himself, including mucking out the fire mess and prepping for the installation of machinery and hardware, and coordinating the joint effort it took to bring the project to completion.
Steve “Montana” Zimmerman was described by O’Neill as the project’s “lifesaver.” Zimmerman, who has done hydraulic work in Homer since 1983, shrugged off the praise, saying he welcomed the “new welders and younger people that are getting into all this stuff.”
Relatively new as business owners, but not to the business, Nathan and Adam Traugott took over Glenn’s Welding from their father, Glenn, three and a half years ago. While welding opportunities are not limited to boats, “that’s pretty much what we’ve always done,” Nathan Traugott said.
His first impression of O’Neill’s proposal was that it “was a mess and when you dig into something like that, you never quite know all the details until you’re in the middle of it, but it came out nice.”
Like the Traugott brothers, Niko Mogar of Specialty Electric was introduced to his trade as a child by his father.
“He started out with a little hardware shop on Kachemak Drive,” said Mogar.
After several years out-of-state with his partially retired father, Mogar returned to Homer last year to reactivate the business. In addition to marine electrical, he also works with solar and renewable energy systems, “but my main involvement is the marine industry here in Homer,” he said. “I do all the bookkeeping, accounting, advertising, design and still consult with my father. He and my little brother in Louisiana are partners, but I’m the Alaska representative.”
Of what Homer can offer, Mogar said, “We actually have probably one of the better marine industries in Alaska.” He noted the opportunities local boat-owners like O’Neill provide and being able to use those opportunities to train others. “The businesses plus a lot of local guys that work for themselves have quite a work force here. It’s just bringing it all together that is the tricky part.”
Josh Burns bought Homer Boat Yard from Mike Stockburger in January. The business provides hauling, storage and transport, shrink-wrapping of boats in the fall and some light maintenance.
Having grown up in Homer but relocating to Fairbanks, buying Homer Boat Yard allowed him to return to his hometown. Taking on the new venture during the winter, Burns discovered the hardest part was “keeping good employees year-round. It’s really hard to do because of the seasonal nature of the business.”
Right now he’s meeting the demands of the spring rush with the help of three employees and two volunteers — his parents — and said, “There’s always going to be boats here so it’s kind of a no-brainer to have a boating-related business in Homer.”
“It tickles me to death to see young ones at the table, bright eyed, excited, seeing the future and the potential,” said Kate Mitchell of NOMAR. Mitchell is active with the Homer Marine Trades Association a not-for-profit organization that advocates for local marine-related businesses.
“If you want to grow, to be a year round sustainable business, you might consider stepping up and establishing practices,” said Mitchell of taking advantage of what the association offers.
A one-year membership is $100 and provides opportunities to participate in trade shows and develop marketing avenues.
Members teach classes at Homer High School and Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, and offer scholarships to graduating high school seniors. This year’s $1,000 scholarship recipient is Flex School graduate Maksim Kuzmin.
Stockburger is president of Homer Marine Trades Association. He owned the Homer Boat Yard for 15 years before deciding it was time to “enjoy my boats instead of other people’s boats.”
“Homer has a lot to offer,” he said. “We’re trying to cover all the bases — commercial, charter, private — giving opportunities to learn about us and what we do down here. And we’re trying to make people understand that if they attract people here, they’ll get some of the business. Maybe not all, but some of it. If we all do that, there’ll be enough to go around and keep us employed.”
On May 18, refit, renamed and with the help of Homer Boat Yard, O’Neill’s boat, the Koyukuk, made its way into the waters of Homer Harbor.
“Homer’s a wonderful place to refit a boat,” said O’Neill. “It’s nice to see a place in Alaska where you can bring a boat and basically do everything without having to ship it somewhere. Homer is an awesome location.”
For more about Homer Marine Trades Association, visit homermarinetrades.com.