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Sailing one’s Footprint away

Sailing brought IT wizard, Robert Williams, to Global Footprint Network 12 years ago, and now, sadly, it will take him away from us as well.

After navigating the ins and outs of our IT infrastructure for 12 years, including the recent successful launch of a new Footprint Calculator, Robert is taking a sabbatical to fulfill a lifelong dream: sailing south towards Mexico and cruising for however long the seas will have him and his life partner, Nina.

“Nina and I met at OCSC, Berkeley Marina’s sailing school, in 2003, where we were sailing instructors. She’s the one who introduced me to Global Footprint Network,” Robert says. Nina was helping Global Footprint Network start its fundraising department at the time, and the organization needed increasing and ever more complex IT help.

Robert, a fearless IT consultant, started to help Global Footprint Network, quickly growing into our indispensable, reliable, and versatile IT wizard from heaven, says Co-founder and CEO Mathis Wackernagel. “No task was too difficult, no hour too late, and no request ever unanswered,” says Mathis. “And that was always with a smile, and a deep interest in and commitment to our organization’s mission.”

Robert, a Southern California native, started sailing at age 13 with his friend Kim. “I was hooked!” he recalls with a laugh. Through the years, he’s raced dinghies and sailed to Hawaii. He even crossed the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia in the Caribbean in a 36-day journey that raised money for Global Footprint Network.

Back on land, Robert has been invaluable at keeping Global Footprint Network’s IT running smoothly. He’s helped chart our tech course as development of the National Footprint Accounts have become far more complex, moving from its origins as an Excel spreadsheet to a much larger database. Today, that database starts with 32 million raw data points from multiple sources, including the United Nations, and results in more than 650,000 Footprint, biocapacity, and trade data points for more than 250 countries and regions.

The past year has been particularly busy as Robert led the launch of the new Footprint Explorer Open Data Platform in the spring, followed by the new Footprint Calculator and our office move this past summer. It’s no wonder he needs to take a break, and to connect more directly with the biosphere rather than all our biocapacity and Footprint data!

“We’re scheduled to set sail next month. We have already left the house where we lived for more than a decade. We just kept our most prized possessions, which are in storage for when we come back—whenever we decide to come back,” Robert says.

Until then, they will have a far smaller Footprint. Their new home is a 1981 38-foot Hallberg-Rassy, which Robert and Nina bought in 2013 with their dream excursion in mind. With a salon (living area), a galley, two cabins, and a head (bathroom), it is designed to keep them comfortable and safe.

“We have been renovating the boat in order to make it ocean-ready: new radar, new rigging, new hatches. We also added a storm sail and a self-steering vane,” Robert says.

On board, life will be dictated by the weather and the availability of ports along the way to refuel food and fresh water reserves. Fish caught off the boat will be a staple food. Indeed, the dependence of human life on nature’s bounty will be very obvious to Robert and Nina, even without the Footprint Calculator that Robert helped build.

The adventure is to start with a six-month journey along the Baja Peninsula and into the Sea of Cortez, which is world-famous among well-traveled sailors for its rich marine life.

“This is a new chapter in our life. Sure, it’s a tad unnerving at times, but it feels like a pretty good idea at this point,” Robert says with a grin.