Sanya, China - Volvo Ocean Race organisers have introduced an unprecedented delay to the start of an offshore leg after deciding high waves and fierce winds would present an unacceptable risk to the fleet.
Race CEO Knut Frostad informed the teams late Saturday that they would bring the boats back after a short race outside the bay and hold them for 12-16 hours while a dangerous weather system clears.
They will then be able to take on the 5 220 nautical mile fourth leg to Auckland in New Zealand.
"All the weather data we have suggests that the conditions will effectively be unassailable and the risks too great," said Frostad.
"It was a gut-wrenching decision to delay a leg start for the first time in the history of our race but in this instance we felt we had no choice."
Weather forecasters expected cyclone-strength winds of up to 50-knots and 10-metre (33-foot) waves to pummel the region.
Five of the six teams backed the decision to wait, with second-placed Camper/Team New Zealand the lone dissenting voice.
"It should be down to the skippers and navigators to make their own decisions on whether it is safe to go or not," said the team's Chris Nicholson. "The teams who want to stay have their own agendas here."
Caution from the teams and organisers is understandable given that three boats were forced to retire from leg one of this edition and only just managed to recover in time for the next leg starting in Cape Town.
The last time the fleet sailed through a similar area in the South China Sea in 2008-09 several boats suffered serious structural damage that threatened their continued participation in the race.
The Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 finishes in Galway, Ireland in July.