ALICANTE, Spain (Reuters) - A one kilometer wide iceberg, which is drifting straight into the path of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the Southern Ocean, has forced the organizers to make a unscheduled change to the route for the fifth leg.
The six boats had already been delayed three extra days in Auckland before setting off for their destination, Itajai in Brazil, because of Cyclone Pam.
The deadly weather system has claimed several lives in the Southern Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu and race management did not want to risk the $30 million fleet sailing nearby.
After finally setting off for the 6,776-nautical mile stage on Wednesday, a huge iceberg was spotted within 48 hours via satellite pictures.
Organizers have imposed ice limits that will force the boats to sail clear of the iceberg's path. Crews will be penalized if they sail over these boundaries towards hazardous areas.
Organizers have brought forward the likely arrival time in Itajai from April 7 to 4 after the boats made surprisingly rapid progress through the first 1,000 nautical miles of the stage.
The boats have been cruising through the South Pacific and out into the Southern Ocean at a consistent 20 knots thanks to the effect from the aftermath of Cyclone Pam.
Team Brunel (Netherlands) led (Saturday, 2.40 a.m. ET) from Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) with overall race leaders, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Team SCA (Sweden), MAPFRE (Spain) and Dongfeng Race Team (China) closely bunched behind them all within 63 nautical miles.
The fleet is expected to arrive in Itajai after the toughest of the nine Volvo Ocean Race legs. They must navigate the treacherous Southern Ocean and round Cape Horn before returning to the Atlantic for the first time since November.
In all, the boats will cover 38,739nm, visit 11 ports and every continent. The nine-month event, held every three years, concludes on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)