Boatman wants to live life in peace

BOAT AFLOAT: The illegal structure erected near the Boulder Bank has been transformed into a houseboat after floating away.
BOAT AFLOAT: The illegal structure erected near the Boulder Bank has been transformed into a houseboat after floating away.

The man who has won a mixture of bouquets and brickbats for building a makeshift houseboat on the Nelson foreshore is a good person who just wants to live quietly, a close friend says.

Paul Jepson built the houseboat out of pallets and corrugated iron while it sat on four piles he'd embedded into the shore of the Boulder Bank which rims Nelson Haven.

Then he lashed drums to its sides, put the hull of an old launch underneath to provide more flotation and cut it free.

This week it has been anchored in about a metre of water at each high tide, well up towards the Glen and far from the few remaining baches. This morning it was even further north, high and dry close to Boulder Bank Drive, having possibly broken free and been carried there by last night's high tide.

Inside he's got a bed, a pot-bellied stove with a chimney, a cupboard with kitchen items and a container to hold rainwater that is ingeniously piped in from the guttering. He has a solar panel and a car battery to provide limited power.

Mr Jepson has so far been unwilling to talk directly to the Nelson Mail but yesterday he was present in the background while his friend, known around the port as Muzz, answered questions on his behalf.

Muzz - who gave his full name to the Mail but asked that it not be used - is the owner of a trimaran that he moors in the Haven, moving it from site to site to comply with the marine regulations.

Speaking from his boat, he said Mr Jepson was his best friend.

"He's a good, honest person. he's the man that I would think would help me if I got into trouble out there."

Mr Jepson, who grew up in sight of the port and formerly worked in one of the engineering businesses on the reclamation, was about 40, had lost his job, wasn't on a benefit and didn't have any money.

He had built the houseboat from what he found washed up on the Boulder Bank, pallets he took apart, drums he got from city businesses and floated down the Maitai River to the sea at night, and other materials he had obtained for little or no cost.

Asked how he hit on the houseboat idea, Muzz said his friend didn't want to sleep rough and decided to make himself somewhere to stay away from town.

"Because he has no income, he goes through the rubbish bins behind the supermarkets and that's where he gets his food from.

"He's just surviving, he gets no help, no support, and he just thought, ‘f*** it!'

"He chose the Boulder Bank

because it was far away. He doesn't want trouble.

He's coping with life day by day - as a few of us are at the moment."

Mr Jepson's activities have caused some official consternation and after he ignored an abatement notice issued by the Nelson City Council, legal moves to force him to dismantle the structure had begun.

But this week harbourmaster Dave Duncan said that while the four piles would have to be taken out, now that the houseboat was afloat he wasn't planning any further action provided Mr Jepson did not pollute the haven.

Muzz said Captain Duncan had been "very reasonable" in dealing with pressure from the council to remove Mr Jepson.

He hoped his friend would be left alone to get on with his life, he said.

That has become a bit harder since someone stole the small auxiliary motor from his dinghy last week, his transport to and from the houseboat, where he has been sleeping several nights a week.

"Drifting around on the tide can be really relaxing and peaceful - but how do you feel when your motor's not going?"

The Nelson Mail