AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Reuters) - Volvo Ocean Race organizers have launched a 24-hour watch system on their fleet but latest predictions on Sunday indicated that the worst of Cyclone Pam was likely to miss Auckland after wreaking havoc in the South Pacific.
The global offshore race’s official meteorologist, Gonzalo Infante, said that a change of course by the deadly weather system would keep the eye of the storm around 200 nautical miles from the New Zealand city where the six boats are currently moored.
Organizers had already been forced to postpone Sunday’s scheduled start of Leg 5 to Itajaí by almost two days because of Cyclone Pam, which struck the island of Vanuatu with devastating effect at the end of last week.
Latest aid agency reports indicate that at least eight people have been killed in Vanuatu with some 90 percent of houses in the capital Port Vila destroyed or damaged.
Race management and operations team have a round-the-clock watch system of personnel on Auckland’s viaduct to monitor the weather and its effect on the boats.
“We now don’t expect the impact in Auckland to be as high as first feared,” said Infante. “Readings around 20 miles north of Auckland have been about 50 knots (92.6 kph) and the impact predictions in Auckland have been downgraded.
“We now expect the worst of the conditions around late Sunday CET time, with wind speeds in the race Village within the range 30-35 knots (56-65 kph) and not as heavy rain as previously expected. A small change in the track of the cyclone looks like it has prevented a much bigger problem for us.”
Infante said the main issue now for the re-start was the sea state which is likely to greet the 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.”
Skippers on the six boats -- Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Dongfeng Race Team (China), Team Brunel (Netherlands), Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.), MAPFRE (Spain) and Team SCA (Sweden) -- will meet on Monday evening in New Zealand to discuss with race management if it is safe enough to sail from Auckland the following day.
The race will visit 11 ports in all during the nine-month, 38,739-nautical mile event. It is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar