LIFE is like a drua for Peni Vunaki. It takes you wherever the wind blows.
When he left Ratu Kadavulevu School after Form Six in 2002, he enlisted with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces which prepared to send him to England for officer cadet studies.
While waiting to be sent there, he went to his village at Solodamu, Tavuki, Kadavu, for Christmas and his mind changed when he saw youths he had attended school with at Tavuki Primary School earning big dollars from their farms.
The yaqona boom on the island had given the islanders a new lease of life. Peni wanted to be a farmer.
Being brought up by his grandparents, he wanted to earn where they lived and look after them.
"I put all my effort into farming and spent a lot of time in the forest where my plantation was," he recalled.
Being in the bush, he formed an attachment with his surroundings and began to love nature. Two years later he became a birdwatcher.
Birdlife was conducting a survey of Fiji's endangered species - the kaka (Kadavu shining parrot), bui iri (Kadavu fantail), kikou (Kadavu honeyeater) and soqeta (whistling dove) - on Kadavu and Peni was part of it.
"It was a good time because we got to see a lot more species that were not recorded. It was important for me because I was doing it for my island, for my people."
The job took him away from home for weeks and his plantation soon became neglected. He returned to farming and fishing but the earnings he made were most of the time used up by the commitments of the vanua. His place of retreat was under water near the reefs where he'd spearfish for his grandparents.
"I was either on the farm or in the sea," he said. "I never was really into the fish that I caught for my family, it was just the scenery that I went for. There I forgot all my disappointments.
"One day while my uncle and I were hauling bags of yaqona across the bush to my home, I asked to rest. I told my uncle that day that 'I want to leave this place to make my life'."
Then one day in 2008, a yacht from New Zealand sailed into the waters of Solodamu and changed his life forever.
It was the Hibiscus 3 and on board was Whangarei sailor Pete Nuttal, his wife and two children.
"I went out to the yacht and was curious about everything. What really took me was that it sailed using only the wind and waves. Pete said he did not need to turn on the engine.
"And then he offered me his dinghy and said if I could sail that, I could one day sail a bigger boat. After farming each day I'd take the dinghy out. One day he invited me to sail with them to Kavala. That was my first experience of sailing and I was hooked."
Captain Nuttal sailed back to Whangarei and returned in 2010 with a question for Peni.
"He asked me if I wanted to join the Uto ni Yalo. I said yes instantly and he told me 'I'll take you to the door, it's your duty to open it'."
They sailed to Suva and Peni was introduced to Colin Philp of the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society, one of veterans of the Uto ni Yalo's inaugural voyage through the Pacific to Tahiti.
Peni sat his day skipper's course, completed 1000 nautical miles as a crew requirement and did all the training. In 2011, on the second part of the Uto ni Yalo's voyage, his adventure began.
The Uto ni Yalo opened his mind to the world, taking him to New Zealand, French Polynesia, Hawaii, San Francisco, down the East Coast to San Diego. His days of discovery on the colourful reef off Solodamu had expanded to the other side of the world.
He flew home and joined the University of the South Pacific's Drua Project, travelling to Lau with Uto veteran Kaiafa Ledua to collect data on drua craftsmanship.
"It was mind opening. To hear the tales from the elders in Lau on how these magnificent sailing vessels were built in the old days. For us voyagers, we related to them. This tradition of our forefathers we must revive at all costs," he said.
When they returned from Lau, Peni accompanied some American students to New Zealand and made presentations on sailing at Massey University in Palmerston North and Victoria University in Wellington. He then rejoined the Uto ni Yalo in Tahiti and sailed through the Pacific to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji and the Solomons where the Te Mana O Te Moana voyage officially came to end.
At 27, he is one of three watch captains on the Uto ni Yalo as it sails to New Caledonia from where it will travel back home.
"When I first joined the Uto, my initial intention was to be a captain one day. This journey opened my eyes to more than just that. I began to value the ocean and its power and all the life in it," he said.
"One day I was lying down and thought deeply about the vast ocean I had travelled and wrote a poem. I always thought the world abroad was big but then I thought deep and realised the real world was the ocean, its vastness and its mysteries.
"It's unexplored, it is the last frontier. We must protect it now and for our future."
That poem - expressing his love for the ocean - is written on a notebook which he sleeps with.
When the Uto ni Yalo returns home, Peni aims to have a rest before pursuing his dream of being a captain. For that, he must first have to do a boat master course, coastguard and open sea yacht master's course.
When he has done all that, he hopes to find a good woman, settle down and have a family.
Only then will the drua of Peni's life make landfall.