SAVIOUR BY THE SEA

THOMAS HEATON meets the Coaster cou­ple spread­ing good­will with stroop­wafels and cof­fee.

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Thomas Heaton finds stroop­wafels, cof­fee and good­will in Grey­mouth

SIT­TING AT THE END of Grey­mouth’s Blake­town Tip is an un­likely look­ing cof­fee cart. Painted in the colours of the Dutch flag, Richard Mons’ an­tique lifeboat plays host to fresh, chewy stroop­wafels, pour-over cof­fee and up­lift­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

The cheery Dutch­man-come­coaster has been run­ning The Lifeboat with his child­hood sweet­heart Monique Spiek­stra since late 2016.

Mons’ dis­po­si­tion doesn’t re­flect his tu­mul­tuous past. The lifeboat, he ad­mits, was his sal­va­tion.

Rais­ing two chil­dren on his own, then suf­fer­ing through an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship and los­ing his job, Mons says he en­tered a “big black hole”.

He lost ev­ery­thing ex­cept for the an­tique lifeboat, which was formerly on Grey River’s dredge Mawhera, and built in 1903. “I thought well, this is a lifeboat, maybe I can turn this into my lifeboat,” he says.

With a fresh lick of paint in the blue, white and red of the flag of the Nether­lands, a tent-like roof and a sim­ple set-up for his stroop­wafels and pour-over cof­fee, the boat was set for busi­ness and is now a des­ti­na­tion in Grey­mouth. Around the same time as set­ting up, Mons also re­con­nected with Spiek­stra, with whom he went to school in the Nether­lands.

Ev­ery­thing needed to power the busi­ness is in­side the boat’s hull – a gas-pow­ered urn for hot wa­ter and waf­fle irons for the tra­di­tional sticky Dutch bis­cuits. The recipe comes from his sis­ter in the Nether­lands – “I’ve never met any­body who didn’t like stroop­wafel.”

The pour-over Hum­ming­bird cof­fee, mean­while, is as much for con­ve­nience as it is a tra­di­tional Dutch cof­fee-mak­ing method. “I didn’t have money for an espresso ma­chine. They’re ex­pen­sive, and it doesn’t set you apart from any­body else.”

Four flat-bot­tom cof­fee drip­pers in­stead sit on top of wee plat­forms fash­ioned from the boat’s old oar­locks.

“You do it right in front of the cus­tomer and you have time for in­ter­ac­tion. If you make cof­fee with [espresso] ma­chines, nine times out of 10 they have their back to you,” Mons says.

Hav­ing sur­vived his tribu­la­tions, Mons is hop­ing to lend peo­ple an ear and spread good cheer. “Maybe some­times you need the hard­ship and the dark­ness to recog­nise the light. Look­ing back, maybe those were the life lessons I needed.”

The boat is about so­cial con­tact and in­ter­ac­tion, he says. “The cof­fee and the stroop­wafel is a means to that end.”

Up to eight peo­ple have been on the lit­tle boat at once for a chat, which is some­thing the cou­ple en­dorse, Spiek­stra says. “All kinds of peo­ple come to the boat, and a lot of lo­cals. A lot of peo­ple come for talk­ing – some­times they don’t even buy any­thing,” she laughs.

A Pledgeme cam­paign to raise the nec­es­sary funds for a sec­ond lifeboat to help any­one in a bad sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to Mons’ re­cently fell short. They’re cer­tain, how­ever, a sec­ond lifeboat will come at some point.

“We know that those boats are go­ing to get there, one way or an­other,” Spiek­stra says. “Our goal is to have more boats in New Zealand to help more peo­ple.”

“There are al­ways peo­ple who need just a lit­tle help­ing hand,” adds Mons.

“You re­alise that you don’t need much to cre­ate some­thing. If you are aware of what you do, if you’re re­ally con­scious of what you do, when you put your mind to it and if it comes out of love, it al­ways finds a way into the world. ”

“All kinds of peo­ple come to the boat, and a lot of lo­cals. A lot of peo­ple come for talk­ing – some­times they don’t even buy any­thing.”

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