AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) Chinese boat Dongfeng Race Team led the Volvo Ocean Race fleet out of Auckland's harbor for the fifth leg to Brazil on Wednesday after Cyclone Pam delayed the start for three days.
The six boats were kept in port on the advice of their skippers and race organizers to avoid the cyclone that caused massive destruction in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, claiming at least 11 lives.
The fleet faces a daunting 6,776-nautical mile (12,549-kilometer, 7,798-mile) journey to their destination in Itajai, Brazil, battling treacherous conditions through the Southern Ocean, rounding Cape Horn and then sailing through the Atlantic for the first time since November.
It's the toughest test for the crews taking part in the nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile (71,745 kilometers, 44,642 miles) race.
Winds in the Southern Ocean are expected to regularly top 100 mph (160 kph) and waves around Cape Horn can reach 100 feet (30 meters) high.
In the last edition of the race in 2011-12, five of the six boats sustained serious damage during the leg and two were forced to retire.
Experienced sailors Stu Bannatyne of New Zealand and Damian Foxall from Ireland were recruited by Team Alvimedica and Dongfeng Race Team, respectively, just to take part in the leg.
Bannatyne, a six-time race veteran, did not need much persuading. ''This is the best sailing in the world,'' he said.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing started the stage level on eight points with Dongfeng Race Team, but is the race leader courtesy of its superior record in the in-port series, which acts as the tie-breaker.
It is trailed by Team Brunel (Netherlands) on 14 points, Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) and fourth-leg victors MAPFRE (Spain) on 16, and the all-women crew of Team SCA (Sweden) on 24.
The boats are expected to arrive in Itajai around April 7.
The fleet will cross the halfway point of the race during the fifth leg. In all, the boats will cover nine legs, visiting 11 ports. The race is scheduled to finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden, after starting in Alicante, Spain, in October last year.