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Londoner Francis Cox-Palmer-White is a Cadet (X) in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – the civilian support service for the Royal Navy – and is studying for his foundation degree and Officer of the Watch certificate at Fleetwood Nautical Campus (Blackpool and the Fylde college). He is also undergoing service specific training in flying operations, replenishment at sea, and naval pilotage.
What originally attracted you to a career in maritime?
After studying for a degree in Philosophy at King’s College London, I decided I wanted to apply my mind to something more practical. I was in the university's Royal Navy Unit and fell in love with navigation whilst sailing on the Royal Navy's patrol vessels.
Do you have any personal or family connections to the sea or inland waterways?
I come from a line of dockworkers from the East End of London, and the river is a central feature in any Londoner’s life.
Tell us some of your career highlights so far
Being on RFA Lyme Bay when we went into London for London International Shipping Week stands out, as does hosting the Navy Board. The biggest highlight thus far has to be passing out of Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth after undertaking the RFA officer's training course there. I really engaged with the ethos of the college and learned a lot about myself.
Who has helped you the most in your career?
My wife, without a doubt. I could not dedicate myself to this career at the level I try to without the constant love, support, and encouragement provided by her, even when we are quite far apart.
What is the one change that would make the biggest positive difference to your job as a maritime professional?
I am in the immensely privileged position of being the type of person the maritime industry seems to be centred around: a straight white male with a good support network at home. I think there are a number of issues such as workplace culture, representation and parental leave which act as barriers to people from marginalised groups having a successful career at sea.
Many of the issues are not as obvious as the overt problems of racism, physical bullying, and so on, but rather there are insidious problems such as cognitive biases and cultural norms which are much harder to confront and resolve. Things only get better when each of us as individuals takes a serious look inside and asks: 'How can I do better?'
What are your plans for the future?
Command. There are probably only two things I seriously aim for in life: a happy and healthy family and command of a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel. As long as the latter does not risk the former, that is my goal.
What do you like doing in your free time?
Like most people during lockdown, I spent my free time with my wife watching films (we are big fans of old Hollywood musicals and the animations of Studio Ghibli) and walking around our local area. We live in a rather musical household and very much look forward to being able to get back to the Royal Opera House and seeing my father-in-law sing in Finchley Chamber Choir.
What is your favourite place you have visited during your career?
I've not had the opportunity to travel abroad yet with the RFA, but so much of our exciting work happens within UK waters, and the west coast of Scotland was a beautiful backdrop for Operation Joint Warrior.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
My wife and I took a seven week road trip across the United States, taking in New England, the mid-West, Yellowstone, and the West Coast. It was a transformative experience as the variation in natural and urban landscapes is breath-taking – and we'd only learned to drive a few months prior!
What is your favourite film, and why?
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – it is about an architect who is deeply passionate about his work and his personal integrity, and defending both. It is a portrayal of a certain kind of spiritual and professional nobility which I find deeply moving and motivating.
What are you watching on TV right now?
To decompress after a day's work, I enjoy relaxing with a silly comedy show. My favourite show is 'The Dick Van Dyke show' for its sheer benevolence, hilarious skits and great musical numbers. My wife and I adore Americana and it is a joyous example of that era of sitcom.
What are you reading right now? What makes it enjoyable?
I love a project, so I've started reading the King James Bible cover to cover as it is one of those fonts of English literature, like the writings of Shakespeare, from which so much of our modern language springs.
Tell us one thing that people may not know about you.
I have an odd tradition that in any country I visit, I bolt straight for the nearest McDonalds to try the unique local offerings they have on the menu. The only country I failed to do this in was the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea due to the lack of McDonalds, but I managed to grab one in China on the way over.