For off-the-grid Vancouver Islanders, self-isolation is a way of life, virus or no virus
As the world is forced into isolation to combat COVID-19, there are people on the west coast of Vancouver Island whose preferred lifestyle already cuts them off from the world. From remote islands to float homes tucked in quiet coves, their lives have been mostly unchanged by the pandemic
As the sun hovered above the Pacific Ocean, Satch Robertson walked through the rain forest on Vargas Island. He let out a whistle, as if to say, “what’s up?” It was his way of communicating with his closest neighbour, who whistled back to let Mr. Robertson know he was there.
The 27-year-old has lived on this remote island in Clayoquot Sound, which sits on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for nearly a year. Home to only six residents and a pack of wild wolves, Vargas Island is quiet. On occasion, you can hear the faint hum of boat traffic as fishermen drive by.
At a time when the rest of the world is learning what it means to isolate, in many ways, Mr. Robertson’s life has remained the same. “It just doesn’t feel any different because there’s very little human interaction,” he said of his day-to-day. Spending the majority of his time alone, working on the land or sailing around his coastal backyard in his boat – a.k.a. “adventure-mobile” – the current COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t disrupted his lifestyle. But “operation-wise, everything has changed,” he said.
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After landing the role of station co-ordinator for the Cedar Coast Field Station in the spring of 2019, Mr. Robertson moved from his sailboat, which he had called home since 2016, to the off-grid system he helped build for the not-for-profit research centre.
He doubles as a field technician, helping to conduct and facilitate in-house research and monitoring programs. This includes a grey whale-monitoring project, which Mr. Robertson co-heads.
The small station team is required to follow COVID-19 protocols, such as staying six feet apart, which left no choice but to scale back some of the fieldwork. “I had applied for a number of grants for the grey whale project, and two of them cut their funding for the spring,” he said. “That’s been a bit of a bummer.”
In mid-March, his girlfriend, Kaylyn Kwasnecha, who normally resides in Tofino, came to the island to get away from the frenzy surrounding the pandemic and wait things out together. It was hard to adjust in the beginning, she said at the end of her first month. But as the moody West Coast skies have cleared and a little bit of the uncertainty around the virus has lifted, “it’s sort of become the norm,” she said.
It’s a simple way of living. Without anywhere to be, the 27-year-old said that she has found more ease and relaxation. “You only bring what you really need. It gives me a chance to focus on what’s really important.”
In their isolation, the couple has found comfort in each other. “It’s really nice to have that rock,” Mr. Robertson said of Ms. Kwasnecha. “It’s super key to have that companion and person to share the lifestyle with.”
While Ms. Kwasnecha may not be prepared to make the move out to Vargas Island permanently, she is grateful for the separation from the pandemic and the time to work on the land. “It’s like Satch said this morning, ‘You get really strong on Vargas.’”