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ALICANTE Spain (Reuters) - Volvo Ocean Race organizers have introduced an ice exclusion zone to keep their boats clear of trouble after a huge iceberg was spotted via satellite tracking near the first leg route from Spain to South Africa.
The fleet is currently deep in the South Atlantic, midway between Brazil and their eventual destination Cape Town, in the notorious high-wind Roaring Forties.
Race control in Alicante, Spain spotted the iceberg, as big as an office block, earlier this week and a sailing exclusion zone has been set up to steer the fleet clear of it.
Boats risk penalties if they cross the mark.
"These bergs are the one thing that sailors are most afraid of," Race watch producer Mark Covell, a silver medal-winning Olympic sailor, who competed in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09, told Reuters.
"If one hits you, then you only have limited time to jump into your life raft. These things can easily rip your keel off... or worse. The nearest vessel to rescue you is the boat of your fellow competitors."
The seven-strong fleet is expected to arrive in Cape Town around Nov. 6 after completing the 6,847 nautical mile (nm) trip from Alicante which started on Oct. 11.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Race, skippered by Briton Ian Walker, led by just 20 miles on Saturday (0940 GMT) from China's Dongfeng Race Team and Dutch boat, Team Brunel.
The opening stage has never before been so closely contested in the 41-year history of the event. A new boat, the Volvo Ocean 65, which each team must use has leveled the playing field and put the emphasis on seamanship rather than boat design.
The race takes nine months to complete and covers 38,739nm. It visits 11 ports on every continent and will conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27, 2015.
Editing by John O'Brien