Queenstown jetboaters recovered from a potentially competition-ending bird strike to finish third at the recent world jetboat marathon.
Two days from the race start in Idaho, United States, while testing their boat at about 200 kilometres per hour, driver Regan Williamson - the two-time defending New Zealand marathon champion - was hit in the face by a bird while another one jammed itself between two stages of their turbine engine’s compressor.
“It looked like someone had sconed Regan with a meatboard,” navigator and mechanic Blair Christmas says.
“If I hadn’t had a full-face helmet on, it would have knocked me out,” Williamson adds.
To the disbelief of other crews, and using a fair bit of Kiwi ingenuity, Christmas pulled the compressor apart and rebuilt part of the turbine, just in time for the race.
The Queenstowners crewed a new seven-metre KwikKraft built by four-time world champion, NZer Mark Cromie.
“Mark said to us before we started the race, ‘drive it like you stole it’,” Williamson says.
The pair made up for lack of boat speed - topping out about 210kmh, compared to about 250kmh reached by some other boats - by driving faster in corners and into rapids.
“The boat had nothing left in it.”
The pair also endured a scary moment on the seventh and last day of racing when a pressure wave propelled them about four metres out of the water at about 200kmh.
“The boat was almost vertical, but it actually came down and landed perfectly,” Williamson says.
Though finishing behind two Canadian crews, the Queenstowners were stoked to head off Blenheim’s John Derry, a former world champion and four-time NZ champion, who finished fourth.
They also beat off many North American contenders with much bigger budgets.
“We’re over the moon [to finish third] considering we were down on boat speed.
“To go and mix it with those North American guys, we couldn’t have done any better with the gear we had.”
The result also puts the pair in good stead for next year’s world marathon in NZ.
That will be run over the same rivers in Canterbury and the Southern Lakes as this October’s NZ marathon which they’ll also contest.