Sailing eastward from Tonga to Tahiti: summary

Whenever other cruisers heard/read of our journey from Tonga to Tahiti eastwards, the reaction ranged from horror to awe. ‘You’re going in the wrong direction!’ In times when sailing ships were the only means to transport people and goods across the oceans they went all directions during all seasons, but it seems that during the past few decades a consensus has been laid down that cruising yachts can never travel against the trade winds (maybe due to bibles like Jimmy Cornell’s ‘World sailing routes’ and seminars for Puddle Jumpers). People were picturing us tacking up and down, beating against the trades all the time. Yes, we did sail close-hauled most of the time, but we found life on a heeling boat with constant sail pressure more agreeable than the constant rolling on a downwind course.
Mostly we tried to make easting during northerly or southerly winds. That happens whenever a trough moves by and with the South Pacific Convergence Zone sitting over the area such wind shifts occur during the Southern winter about once a week.

Our system was simple: we set out as soon as the wind started clocking around and tried to reach the shelter of an island before the easterly trade winds set in again. There are numerous islands stretched out between Tonga and Tahiti, most of them only have open anchorages on the west side, so it’s ideal to spend time there during easterly winds.

Tongatapu to Niue:
On August 10 we started the first leg from Tonga in rough weather with SSE wind of 25 to 30 knots, the next two days the wind shifted to the SE still blowing 20+, Pitufa did daily runs of 120 nm and we reached Niue in 2.5 days. We spent 5 days in Niue exploring parts of the island we hadn’t seen the first time around. (320 nm rhumb line, 322 nm sailed miles).

Niue to Beveridge Reef:
On August 16 the wind turned to the ENE (the buoy field in Niue gets uncomfortable with northerly wind) and we set out again, tacked once, then the wind shifted to the NE so we sailed E and reached Beveridge reef with the last breeze before a calm period of 2 days. Perfect! (135 nm rhumb line, 155 nm sailed)

Beveridge Reef to Palmerston:
On August 20 the wind shifted to SW so we headed out again on a SE course. The next day the wind turned to the SE and we sailed E. We had not decided which of the Cook Islands would be our next stop, but they are so conveniently spread out that we were sure we’d make it to one of them–in the end Palmerston lay directly on our course and we stayed there for a week (285 nm rhumb line, 305 nm sailed).

Palmerston to Rarotonga:
On August 30 the grib files suggested a wind shift to the NE, but the wind remained E for a day (sometimes even ESE), so we were pushed too far south, the next day the shift finally came and we reached Rarotonga after 3 days. We stayed 1 week in the capitol of the Cooks (rhumb line 270 nm, 281 nm sailed).

Rarotonga to Tahiti:
This fifth and last leg should have been easy, we wanted to set out in NE winds on September 8, make easting and then ride the SE trade up to Tahiti. Unfortunately the wind stayed NE (sometimes ENE) for 2 days (we tacked once), turned north and died down, so we had to motor for 2 days. We made enough miles east, so that we were able to sail straight N up to Tahiti when the wind set in from E. With a stop in the Austral Islands (we passed by Maria and Rimatara) we could have avoided those two days of motoring… (7 days sailing, rhumb line 620 nm, 780 nm sailed).

In the end the dreaded passage in the ‘wrong direction’ took us 5 weeks, but 3 of these we spent in anchorages/buoy fields exploring lovely islands. We added approximately 340 nm to the rhumb line of 1500 nm (Tongatapu straight to Tahiti). We tacked only twice, the rest of the time the wind shifted conveniently to take us to the next destination. We had winds of more than 20 knots on 5 days and less than 10 knots on 4 days (that’s when we motorsailed for 48 hours), the rest of the time Pitufa sailed in comfy 10 to 20 knots doing average daily runs of 120 nm. We are lucky to have a boat that sails very well windwards, but towards the end of the journey wear and tear on the material started showing (chafe on sheets, etc.).


  1. michael und ursula says:

    hallo ihr 2 lieben,
    mit internet im hause von ursulas eltern und unserem alten rechner
    der sogar eine noch funktionierende tastatur hat, bin ich zum erstenmal auf euerer supersuperprofessionellen webseite gelandet. juppieiee!!
    bei uns hat nach schon frustruierenden taegen, (gefuehl….. schon 1 monat vorbei und nichts gross passiert….) der letzte freitag der superglueckstag gewesen. am gleichen tag passierte folgendes…
    1) haben kaeufer fuer unser gelaende in suedfrankreich!
    2) vorvertrag fuer den kauf einer alten (totalrenovierung noetig) kleinen
    muehle in der naehe von ursulas familie mit dem immobilienmakler unterschrieben. hoffen alles klappt dann da “nur” 10000 euro
    3) und endlich die sachen aus der garage meines bruders geraeumt und in garage von ursulas schulfreundin eingestellt.

    also neue abenteuer mit bauprojekt. aber bin mir sicher das unsere 10000euros in der alten muehle mit 500m2 besser aufgehoben sind als bei den banken, selbst falls wir nie zur renovierung kommen und nur holzschuppen mit garage und werkstatt benutzen oder wieder verkaufen muessen. das risiko nach unten bei wiederverkauf ist gering genug.

    am mittwoch gehts nach suedfrankreich wegen vorvertrag mit kaeufer.
    allerbesteliebstegruesse und ahoi von uns m+u

  2. Philippe Lemoine says:

    Great blog entry. I was exactly reading the “wrong” book :) I knew this was doable, just didn’t think at tall these opportunities to stop..
    Thanks for sharing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.