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Jetboat joust goes from court to world championships

The Queenstown brothers behind two warring commercial jetboat companies face off in the World Jetboat Marathon starting Sunday.

Kawarau Jet co-owner Shaun Kelly and brother Neville Kelly – co-owner of Thunder Jet, which is pushing for rights to run Kawarau River trips – will leave their courtroom battle behind to compete in Canterbury during the week-long marathon.

Thunder Jet driver Brent Ward – formerly a longtime Kawarau Jet staffer – is also competing.

Shaun Kelly is teamed with Cromwell navigator Mark Jackson.

Neville is navigating for multiple world-champ -winning driver Mark Crom­­ie of Whangarei and Ward is navigating for another hotshot and former winner, Dale Whiteside of Canada.

All are entering the marathon’s premier Unlimited boat class to compete on four Canterbury rivers.

None of the Queens­towners wanted to discuss their commercial rivalry and whether it would be in the back of their minds during racing.

“That’s not an issue at all,” Shaun says.

“This would be one of the most demanding motorsports in the world as you’ve got no track and you and your navigator have to work out where to go in a split second at 100 miles an hour.

“It’s all seat-of-the-pants stuff.”

That’s one thing the Kelly brothers agree on. Neville says boats are now going faster and faster.
“Five years ago, if you were doing 105 miles an hour, you were moving – now it’s 110-115.”

Another Queenstowner competing – but with no involvement in the off-water commercial rivalry – is Regan Williamson, with Glen­­­­orchy’s Pete Reid as navigator.

Williamson is in only his second season of racing but, with Reid, was runner-up in the New Zealand Jetboat Marathon last year on the same course.

“We’ve geared up for [the worlds] for the last two years and are very motivated.”

Williamson says it would be impossible to compete without sponsorship.

“You’d buy a house in Southland for the price of an unlimited boat.”

He believes either himself or Shaun Kelly will emerge victorious. “By the end of September, one of us will have a world title.”

Shaun, 48, has been to five world champs since 1997 racing his Kawarau Jet-sponsored raceboats. His best result is fifth overall in 2000.

He estimates he’s spent about half a million dollars on his boat since he’s been involved in racing.