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-come coaster 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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