AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Reuters) - Cyclone Pam has forced Volvo Ocean Race organisers to postpone the departure of the fifth leg from New Zealand to Brazil this weekend with winds of up to 200 km per hour forecast in the region.
Knut Frostad, CEO of the marathon round-the-world sailing event, told reporters on Thursday that he had no option but to delay the planned departure from Auckland to Itajaí.
The six-strong fleet was originally set to depart for the 6,776-nautical 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 the tropical cyclone could strengthen further as it heads south and even if the system missed New Zealand, big swells and rough seas could still cause real problems for the fleet.
"Our biggest concern is the sea state, rather than the wind," Frostad added. "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. It depends completely on the movement of this tropical cyclone."
The nine-month race is staged over nine legs and is due to finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Editing by John O'Brien