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Volvo fleet wait out storm in Auckland

Organisers say fifth leg won't start until Tuesday midday at the earliest.

Nevil Gibson
Mon, 16 Mar 2015

Volvo Ocean Race organisers have held back the sailing of the next leg from Auckland to Itajai, Brazil, until midday Tuesday at the earliest because of Cyclone Pam.

Pam has been downgraded to an extreme tropical storm as it passes the East Coast of the North Island.

High winds, heavy rain and sea surges are hitting the Gisborne region, where all schools have been closed and people have been urged to stay home for the day.

Earlier, Cyclone Pam caused devastation in Vanuatu with aid agencies saying at least eight people have been killed with some 90% of houses in the capital Port Vila destroyed or damaged.

Outer islands to the east were most affected by the 270kp winds, thought to have destroyed most dwellings as well as commercial crops.

Governments in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere are flying emergency aid to Vanuatu where power, water, food and other essential services need to be restored.

In Auckland, the storm is likely to abate by midday with minimal damage reported so far.

Volvo race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante says wind speeds and rain in Auckland are less than feared.

“A small change in the track of the cyclone looks like it has prevented a much bigger problem for us,” he says.

Mr Infante says the main issue now for the re-start is the sea state which is likely to greet the six-strong fleet once it ventures out in to the South Pacific and then Southern Ocean.

“Once the boats go past the most eastern point of New Zealand the systems look like they’ll be pretty rough. We have to make sure the fleet has options to escape if the sea state is really bad,” he says.

Skippers on the six boats – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Dongfeng Race Team (China), Team Brunel (Netherlands), Team Alvimedica (Turkey/US), MAPFRE (Spain) and Team SCA (Sweden) – will meet tonight to discuss with race management if it is safe enough to sail from Auckland on Tuesday.

“For sure, it’s the right decision to delay the fleet,” says Ian Walker, skipper of race leader Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

“Nobody wants to send us out there to break boats, damage sails or, worse still, injure people.”

“The situation is different to what we’ve ever had before in the 41-year history of this race,” says Team Brunel’s Australian navigator, Andrew Cape.

“With a cyclone in the race course at departure time, you can’t send boats into it, it’s just ridiculous. It’s like driving on a greasy road – there are just some things you don’t do.”

Nevil Gibson
Mon, 16 Mar 2015
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Volvo fleet wait out storm in Auckland