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29er nationals: Pair eye title despite boat 'totalled' in storm

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Twenty-nine teams are set to battle it out for the title of 29er national champion at Kohimarama Yacht Club this weekend, but for one of the teams just getting to the start-line is already a big win.

Nelson Yacht Club’s Bruno Page and Ashley Cole make the trip up to Auckland today and will line up to race on Friday in a chartered boat after their 29er was destroyed in a storm surge just over a week ago.

The 15-year-old teammates were forced to watch helplessly as their boat was split in half after being lifted from its parking spot near the slipway of the yacht club - still on its trailer – and became stuck under a wharf some distance away.

“It was about 8am on Saturday (May 20) when I got a call from my mum saying a 29er was floating in the Nelson harbour and they thought it could be ours,” Page said.

“My dad and I were down there within minutes, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was the highest tide and the biggest swell I have ever seen - the waves were going all the way to the top of the ramp and onto the road.”


The boat was destroyed after becoming stuck under a wharf during a storm surge. Photos / Supplied

Their boat had drifted toward a nearby wharf and after managing to attach a line to the scuppers the pair, with the help of the harbourmaster and some friends, attempted to bring the boat ashore.

“We also managed to find the trailer, which was floating about 100m away on the other side of the wharf. We got that up and saw that the handles had snapped off – it must have taken an insane amount of force for that to happen,” Page said.

“As we were bringing the boat around the corner, it got sucked under the wharf and it started to get hammered into the piles. It got stuck and the next thing we heard a huge crack. I went around to the side to have a look and I just collapsed on my knees because the boat was getting split in two. It was completely totalled.”


For the next hour, Page and Cole watched their boat, which they had only purchased for $8000 at the start of the season, getting battered by the waves before finally coming apart.

Their centreboard was found later that day about a kilometre from the club, but there were no signs of their training sail, jib, foils, or rudder.

He has been blown away by the offers of support they have received since posting about their misfortune to social media, Page said.

“It has been amazing. We had messages from sailors and parents of sailors, and people I’ve never spoken to before messaged out of the blue saying they have a spare boat or sails we could use.

“I even got a text from [Emirates Team New Zealand’s] Ray Davies and I thought, ‘holy moly, the coach of the America’s Cup team is offering to help!”

Bruno Page and Ashley Cole will be competing at their first 29er national championships this weekend.

Bruno Page and Ashley Cole will be competing at their first 29er national championships this weekend. Photos / Supplied

While the setback won’t keep them from competing in their first 29er nationals, it has robbed them of valuable training time for the event that will feature several strong combinations, including the Kensington brothers, Sean and Rowan.

“We’ve been really looking forward to the regatta and we have been training a lot,” Page said.

“We’ve chartered a training boat from Manly Sailing Club and after a few issues we managed to get our race sails couriered up there. Friends have also offered us their boat to train with and while it hasn’t been too different switching boats, the whole thing definitely has knocked our confidence a lot.”

This weekend’s event also doubles as the 470 national championships, with Derek Scott and Rebecca Hume, and Brittany Wornall and Sam Street, likely to battle it out at the front of the eight-boat fleet - the biggest in a number of years and one that includes an Australian entry.

The two leading Kiwi teams have just returned from competing in the 470 European championships in Italy where they finished 46th and 52nd respectively.

Yachting New Zealand's Youth and Events Manager Sam Mackay is encouraged by the growing number of entries.

"The 29er nationals have been a really strong domestic event over the last few years, particularly over the Covid-19 period and it’s exciting to again have 29 boats entered - including seven girls teams," he said.

"Yachting New Zealand is supporting both events with coaching, with Polly Powrie, Scott McKenzie and myself there to help all the sailors, especially the ones with no on-water support.

"We will also run a fleet debrief after racing each day to discuss what worked, and what didn’t and to talk through some key takeaways."

For more information about the 2023 29er and 470 national championships, and to see the list of entries, click here.