Graham Holley and Georgina Asumae have a whale of tale to tell.

In fact, 70-year-old Holley has been sailing since he was a young boy and reckons he's never experienced anything like he did heading from Napier to Opua last month.

First a rogue wave struck his 38ft ketch, causing it to roll on its side before it quickly righted itself. Five minutes later an eight or nine metre whale burst two metres above deck and collided with the bow of the ship, leaving a huge dent.

"I said what's next, what could be next?" Holley said.

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Holley, who is from Brisbane, Asumae, who is from the Solomon Islands and their Colin Archer-designed boat named Supermolli, are stationed in the hardstand at Marsden Cove while the vessel undergoes repairs.

Georgina Asumae and Graham Holley were sailing from Napier when they were struck by the wave and then the whale. Photo/John Stone
Georgina Asumae and Graham Holley were sailing from Napier when they were struck by the wave and then the whale. Photo/John Stone

On April 15 the couple, who have been sailing on the boat for nearly a year and a half, left Napier to head to Opua.

Unbeknown to them they would soon be struck by a wave and then collide with a whale.

On April 16 the couple were about 80km off East Cape. It was about 11am and the winds were around 30 to 35 knots. Holley said they were being driven along with wind on the port quarter - the rear left side of a boat - and were following seas.

He was in the cockpit at the time and Asumae was asleep in the cabin.

Then, out of nowhere, a rogue wave struck the port side of the boat, tipping it on its right side before to vessel came upright again.

It woke Asumae.

"I was like a pancake. I turned out of the bed and grabbed on to the green rope and was standing on the other side. I looked around and everything was starboard. I went upstairs to check Graham and I asked what happened," she said.

Graham Holley and Georgina Asumae were heading from Napier to Opua when their 38ft ketch was tipped by a wave and then collided with a whale.

Holley said the bulk of the wave came across the cabin top and destroyed the dodger - which protects the companionway.

He said it was a bit of a mess in the cabin.

"The cutlery drawer jumped out of its lock and the contents shot across to the starboard side of the vessel, along with tea bags and onion peels which shot out of the sink," he said.

The couple both checked for leaks but the only water that entered the vessel came through the vents and the breather - an outlet pipe that lets the fuel tank expand so air can travel out.

Five minutes later, the whale came.

"We'd got our act back together and back on course. I saw a grey whale - I believe it was a humpback whale - rise off our starboard bow and probably to a height of two metres."

At the time, Asumae was in the cabin putting back the floorboards which had lifted after the boat tipped.

She said she stood up and then heard a loud bang.

"I said 'what was that?' and Graham was opening the companionway and said 'check if there are any leaks.'"

Georgina Asumae and Graham Holley were sailing from Napier when they were struck by the wave and then collided with the whale. Photo/John Stone
Georgina Asumae and Graham Holley were sailing from Napier when they were struck by the wave and then collided with the whale. Photo/John Stone

Thankfully, there were none.

"Nothing really changed. It was over and up and here we go, and then the whale came up - maybe to see if we were awake or whatever - but that didn't disturb greatly," Holley said.

Instead of heading to Opua the couple decided to make their way to Marsden Cove. They arrived on Good Friday without a hitch but because water had damaged the motor, they had to call Coastguard to tow them to shore.

Holley said the large dent caused by the whale had to be repaired along with the dodger, solar panel and engine. He expected everything to take another six weeks.

"It's made me realise how good the boat is. Our extreme was small really. I think the joy of coming out of it and being able to say 'what's next?' means we're still okay."

Whale expert Dr Ingrid Visser said New Zealand had one of the highest incidents of boats striking whales in the Southern Hemisphere.

"We always encourage people to be vigilant around marine mammals. Given the stormy conditions a whale could easily make a mistake so it's important to remember that in New Zealand boats should not approach closer than 50 metres to any whale.

"It must have been frightening for both the whale and the people," she said.

Anyone who spots a whale can call The Orca Research Trust on 0800 SEE ORCA (0800 733 6722).