AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) The fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from New Zealand to Brazil has been postponed after a tropical cyclone created 200 kph (124 mph) winds in the Pacific.
Knut Frostad, CEO of the marathon round-the-world sailing event, said Thursday he had no option but to delay this weekend's planned departure from Auckland to Itajai.
The six boat fleet was originally set to depart for the 6,776-nautical mile (12,549-kilometer, 7,798-mile) voyage through the treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean on Sunday.
''We're making this decision now because we don't know the exact track of this tropical cyclone yet,'' Frostad said. ''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.''
Forecasts suggest that Cyclone Pam could strengthen further as it heads south. Even if the system misses New Zealand, big swells and rough seas could still cause significant problems for the fleet.
''Our biggest concern is the sea state, rather than the wind,'' Frostad said. ''The boats can handle a lot of wind, but there will be very big waves along the New Zealand coast, with nowhere to hide.
''We are not going to have the boats leaving Auckland before 1400 local time (0100 GMT) on Monday, but it could also be later,'' he added. ''It depends completely on the movement of this tropical cyclone.''
The nine-month race, which is staged over nine legs, covers a total 38,739 nautical miles (71,745 kilometers, 44,642 miles), 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 eventual planned return to the race from early June.
Denmark's Team Vestas Wind leads the race with 28 points, ahead of Team SCA of Sweden (24), and U.S.-Turkey entry Team Alvimedica and MAPFRE of Spain with 16. Team Brunel has 16 points, while Dongfeng Race Team and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing have eight points each.