The start had already been postponed from tomorrow to Monday over safety fears, but with Cyclone Pam continuing to menace the New Zealand coast with winds of more than 250 kms an hour in the last 24 hours, a second delay became inevitable.
Cyclone Pam is, according to one New Zealand meteorologist, the fiercest in the South Pacific for 40 years.
Richard Green told local radio station RadioLIVE yesterday: “Cyclone Pam is enormous, it is the most powerful it can be. We have seen nine cyclones of category five in the last 40 years in the South Pacific and this is the strongest.”
Race CEO Knut Frostad told reporters at a Press conference earlier yesterday that he had “no option” but to delay the fleet’s departure for the 6,776-nautical mile leg to Itaja’ in Brazil.
The sailors have unanimously backed that decision.
“We know that our boats are strong but we cannot sail in 70 knots of wind (130 kph). This is already something more than a cyclone. I have not seen anything like this in my life,” MAPFRE (Spain) skipper, Iker Mart’nez, an Olympic gold medallist in Athens 2004, told reporters yesterday.
Officials have also started dismantling part of the specially-built race village in Auckland to avoid damage. Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante has warned of winds of up to 60 knots tomorrow night to Monday morning. He also predicts accompanying storms that could flood the village.
Cyclones are graded into five categories, blowing winds of more than 118 kph to beyond 250 kph with Cyclone Pam belonging to the latter group.
The nine-month race, which is staged over nine legs, covers 38,739nm in all, and finishes on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
There are nine legs in all and the fifth, which takes the fleet through the treacherous Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, was already reckoned to be the toughest of all.