AUCKLAND - A powerful cyclone in the Pacific forced organisers to delay the fifth leg of the worldwide Volvo Ocean Race because of safety fears on Thursday.
The six-strong fleet was due to leave Auckland for Itajai, Brazil on Sunday but will now not set sail until Monday at the earliest to avoid Tropical Cyclone Pam.
The storm was approaching the Pacific nation of Vanuatu on Thursday, with forecast winds in excess of 165 kilometres per hour (102 mph).
"We're making this decision now because we don't know the exact track of this tropical cyclone yet," said Knut Frostad, CEO of the round-the-world race.
"It's unusually big and essentially it's blocking the road for our sailors, so it's prudent seamanship from our side to leave them with options."
Even if the system, which could strengthen as it heads south, misses New Zealand, big swells and rough seas would still cause real problems for the fleet.
"Our biggest concern is the sea state, rather than the wind," said Frostad. "The boats can handle a lot of wind, but there will be very big waves along the New Zealand coast, with nowhere to hide."
The fleet will now not leave before 2:00 pm (0100 GMT) on Monday on the 6,776 nautical mile (12,549 kilometres) leg through the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean.
The nine-month race, which is staged over nine legs, covers 38,739nm in all, and is due to finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
It has already lost one boat, Team Vestas Wind, which ran into an Indian Ocean reef during the second leg and had to be retrieved for a rebuild and planned return to the race from early June.
Latest positions: 1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 8pts, 2. Dongfeng Race Team (China) 8, 3. Team Brunel 14, 4. Team Alvimedica (US/Turkey) 16, 5. MAPFRE (Spain) 16, 6. Team SCA (Sweden) 24, 7. Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 28