(Photo credit: Sonia Strobel, Fishing boat Eldorado)

I always find the change of seasons to be a powerful time for reflection. This year’s final day of summer and first day of autumn were particularly filled with nostalgia and reflection for me as we headed out on a boat repositioning trip.

Boat repositioning trips are a thing for most BC fishing families. Our coast is vast and much of our fishing happens far from home. For our family these days, fishing season starts in June with running the boat from Vancouver around the southern tip of Vancouver Island to Barkley Sound and up the Alberni Inlet, to Port Alberni, typically a 2-3 day run. And the end of the fishing season is marked by the reverse trip home. This year, while our older son, Oliver stayed with my parents, busy completing a weekend course, Shaun and I brought the boat home with our younger son, Lyndon.

A boat repositioning trip is about so much more than just the functional moving of a boat from point A to B. When you’re out running the boat, you’re off the grid, away from phones and technology. You’re living in close quarters, and you have to work together, listen to each other, and communicate well. It’s also quiet, quality time as a family in nature, and a welcome and refreshing break from our busy lives in the city. Unlike the rest of the season, there isn’t the rush and stress and chaos of fishing, so there’s time to really be present with one another, savour the breath-taking scenery, explore remote parts of the coast, and take our time. It’s incredibly valuable time together.

(Photo credit: Sonia Strobel. Eldorado boat from Broken Islands)

As we headed out on the last day of summer, I realized that I hadn’t done one of these trips since before we had kids. Sure, we’ve been out fishing together as a family, often on other boats that we leased for a season. But this trip was special: this was Lyndon’s first multi-day boat trip, and the first overnight trip onboard Eldorado for Shaun and I since before we had kids. Since we bought back Eldorado this year, 2023 has been a big season of nostalgia! Not only was this the boat we fished when we started Skipper Otto, but this is also the boat on which Shaun and I had our very first date 25 years ago.

It was my first ever fish boat trip. Shaun was moving the boat from Steveston, where they had based their family fishery since the 1960’s, to a slip that had come available at the False Creek Fishermen’s Wharf. Shaun and I had been friends for a few years working summers through university at a local historic museum when he asked if I wanted to come with him on this day trip to move the boat from Steveston to False Creek. I was curious as I’d never been on a fish boat! I assumed it would be a group of friends from work, but when I arrived, I realized it was a date with just the two of us! We spent a most beautiful day running the boat around the point of UBC, laughing and swimming, cooking and eating, and, much to both our surprise, I even caught a fish! It was a wonderful day together and, little did I know at the time, it would kick off a wonderful life together. (To hear more about this story – watch the CBC Documentary: Fresh Catch on CBC Gem)

During that first trip, I remember being constantly impressed with how Shaun navigated the boat. It was as though the boat was an extension of him. He effortlessly checked the fluids and gauges, maneuvered the boat around logs, anchored and docked, laughing and chatting all the while. And it was the same thing during this trip. Shaun, like a lot of multi-generational fishermen, really shines when he’s on a boat. He’s in a state of flow where everything seems to come naturally and flow effortlessly. We all experience that when we’re doing something that aligns perfectly with our strengths and interests. And for fishermen, it’s especially profound since their strengths and skills are so uncommon compared to your average city-dweller today. Being around someone who is in that state of flow is endearing and infectious. It makes others want to be around them. No wonder I fell in love with this fisherman all those years ago!

In our modern world, we don’t often celebrate the unique set of skills and strengths that fishers have. Many people who fish struggle to stick with other jobs because the modern world valorizes a completely different set of strengths. Shaun often jokes that while he struggles to navigate things like tax returns and passport applications and all the website logins and online forms that our modern society demands, the world will appreciate him if the apocalypse comes: he can run a boat, fix stuff on the fly, and bring us food. I think this became apparent to many people during the pandemic when folks realized that they didn’t really know how to fend for themselves, and there came a huge resurgence of interest in things like gardening, baking bread, and making soap. As AI accelerates the rapid pace of change in our world, we must remember to honour our farmers and fishers, our ranchers and explorers — folks with diverse skill sets that not only give them great joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction, but which we as a society need to survive, especially as we face uncertain times like pandemics, supply chain crises, climate change, and increasing political tensions erupting into war. If we don’t value diversity, and don’t protect things like a small-scale fishing way of life, along with other divergent ways of life, we’re going to lose them. And, that would be a tragic loss of diversity for humanity.

(Photo credit: Sonia Strobel. Lyndon Strobel exploring / Sonia Strobel and former Skipper Otto employee)

And so, on this trip, Shaun, Lyndon, and I savoured a beautiful, sunny, warm final day of summer as we navigated the boat around the Broken Group of islands, the traditional summer territory of the Tseshaht Nation, and a mecca for paddlers who come from around the world to experience its remote beauty. Lyndon took the helm at times and I marvelled at his growing skills and comfort running the boat, following in his dad’s and his opa’s footsteps. We rowed ashore Clarke Island at the remote western end of the group of islands where we explored isolated beaches, and wandered around the remains of a hotel that had once been here, only the fireplace and chimney remain, standing eerily amid the moss-covered forest. And there on the beaches of what felt like the remote ends of the earth, we stumbled upon a former Skipper Otto employee who was out for a paddling trip with a group of friends! What are the chances?! Sometimes everything seems to align in the most serendipitous ways.

(Photo credit: Sonia Strobel. Shaun & Lyndon Strobel in dingy )

As the fog banks rolled in that night and summer turned to fall, we turned up the gas heater, popped some jiffy-pop over the stove, and settled in for a cozy night on the boat. As Lyndon and I snuggled up on the dinette seating that night, it felt like the whole world had slowed down. In the morning, we awoke to the gentle patter of rain on the boat and Lyndon begged to stay curled up snug in his bunk while Shaun and I sipped steaming cups of coffee and prepared a simple breakfast. In my busy life running a business, sitting on committees and advisory boards, and travelling for speaking engagements, it’s a rare thing to be unplugged, disconnected, and doing nothing but eating popcorn, playing games with family, and watching the seasons change. We all need time like this in our lives to unplug. And for fishing families, a family boat trip can be a pretty powerful antidote to stress. 

(Photo credit: Sonia Strobel. Sonia & Lyndon Strobel on bow of Eldorado / Shaun and Lyndon Strobel making popcorn)

Fall arrived with gusto that day as we made the rest of our journey home amid choppy seas and side-ways blowing rain. It made me think about all the change we’ve witnessed in the past 25 years together. It made me think back to the day we started Skipper Otto with the hope that our newborn son would be able to continue this fishing way of life. And here, aboard that same boat where Shaun and I had our first date, where both our kids had their first newborn-baby boat rides, and where we hatched the idea for this Community Supported Fishery, I felt overcome with gratitude. 15 years later, thanks to the incredible community of support that has grown around us, I have two kids who are community-based fishermen with their dad, against all odds in this ever-more industrialized fishery. Somehow, amid so much change, what matters most seems to find a way to persist. And it’s moments of reflection like this that anchor us in purpose and energize us to face whatever change lies ahead.

Written by: Sonia Strobel

(Photo credit: Lyndon Strobel. Sonia Strobel paddle boarding)

Sonia - October 26, 2023

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Changing of Seasons – a reflection

Sonia - October 26, 2023

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