Volvo Ocean Race organisers will split Leg 4 into two stages and hold the six boats in Sanya after Sunday's leg start to allow enough time for dangerous conditions to clear, with fears that waves of up to eight metres in the South China Sea could wreak havoc with the fleet.
Race director Jack Lloyd informed the teams on Saturday that Leg 4 to Auckland would be split for reasons of safety after forecasts of unsailable conditions in the Strait of Luzon.
The first stage will start as scheduled at 1400 local time (0600 GMT/UTC) and will see the boats complete an inshore course in Sanya Bay before sailing past the famous Guanyin Buddha of South China Sea statue and finishing at Sanya Bay lighthouse which marks the entrance to Sanya Marina.
The fleet will then wait until conditions are deemed safe enough for them to sail. The delay will not be for more than 24 hours.
The re-start will be staggered, with the boats leaving in the order they finish Stage 1.
'It could be that we re-start the in the hours of darkness on Monday morning,' Lloyd told the teams.
Forecasts of winds gusting above 40 knots and waves of eight metres prompted the decision, according to Race CEO Knut Frostad.
'We will re-start the race some time on Monday and it could be in darkness,' Frostad said. 'Our delay will not be more than 24 hours.
'We are doing this because of the weather advice issued by experts both from our own Race HQ in Alicante and the teams' experts.
'They all believe we have conditions which will be dangerous up to 12-18 hours after the Leg start, with waves that can break boats if you sail into them.'
He added: 'This has been a very, very difficult decision for us which we've waited as long as possible to make so that we make the right one.'
Iker Martínez, skipper of overall race leaders Team Telefónica, said he supported the decision.
'We have to trust those forecasts,' the Spaniard said. 'It was very difficult to make this decision but it is clearly a case of safety first and we don't want to go up against a wall.'
Fresh in the minds of organisers were the problems suffered by the fleet in the Strait of Luzon in the last race, when most of the boats suffered serious damage in conditions described at the time as carnage.
The current edition has seen the fleet take plenty of knocks already, with Team Sanya, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG all forced to retire from Leg 1 because of damage. Team Sanya were also forced to make major repairs again in Madagascar in Leg 2, missing the shipping of the fleet through piracy-affected waters in the Indian Ocean.
Leg 4 is due to take the fleet 5,220 nautical miles to Auckland in New Zealand. No points will be awarded for the first stage of the leg.
Team Telefónica won Saturday's Sanya Haitang Bay In-Port Race and lead the overall standings with 101 points, followed by CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on 83, Groupama sailing team on 73, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG on 53, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on 43 and Team Sanya on 17.
Listen to an audio file of race director Jack Lloyd explaining the decision here.