Francesca’s Story

My name is Francesca, and I began learning how to sail when I was ten years old at Mumbles Yacht Club, Swansea
24 May 21
Image of Frankie Dickens smiling

I sailed Toppers, Laser Radials and eventually spent one year training full-time with the British Podium Potential Squad in a 49er FX. Having spent a few years away from boats, I am now keen to start sailing again and hope that I can join RYA Cymru-Wales as a coach in the next few months. 


I am a paralegal, and I work in the field of immigration and asylum law. In April 2021, I returned home to Wales after having spent seven months volunteering to give legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers in Lesvos, Greece (


In the weeks before I arrived, many of my clients lost everything in a fire that burnt down the camp and left 13,000 people on the streets without food, water or shelter. The New Camp – which opened four days before I arrived – is situated right on the Aegean Sea. Throughout the winter, frequent storms battered the hastily assembled tents and heavy rains made the camp sewers run. Showers were not installed until mid-December, leaving many asylum-seekers and refugees the only option to wash in the sea.  


The work that I do is challenging, not least because it requires having the determination to continue to advocate despite unfair procedures, inhuman conditions and adversity from people who disagree with the fundamental premise of the work. It is not unlike sailing in that it requires a clear goal and focus despite a lot of external distractions! There are things that I learnt from sailing that have stuck with me and proven to be incredibly important in the work I do. 


The biggest thing that sailing gave me was the conviction to trust myself. Going out on the water almost every weekend from the age of ten drilled into me that I am ultimately accountable for the things I do. I learnt what it feels like to put all my energy and effort into something – and this feeling is something that I have been able to replicate in my work ever since. I know that I will work to the very best of my ability – I trust myself to do this. 


A coach once told me that ‘trying isn’t winning’. It’s not – but winning requires trying and trying and trying, over and over again. I always reconciled myself to losing races as long as I had learnt more than anyone else on the course. I try to keep the same mentality as an advocate: when things go wrong, I deal with them. I process what went wrong and I change my behaviour. I learn from my mistakes. 


Working in Lesvos meant that I was giving legal advice to people in extremely vulnerable situations – such as shipwreck survivors, victims of torture or people in urgent need of medical treatment. There were many times when this upset me. Specific incidents that come to mind include the way that one elderly gentleman was treated by the Asylum Service on the day of his asylum interview, three orphaned children and their grandparents receiving a rejection and a pregnant woman who self-immolated in protest at the conditions in the new camp. Honestly, sometimes, I would finish a day at the office and immediately call my friends and family back home just to cry down the phone. To their credit, nobody ever once told me to quit and come home. They supported me, propped me back up and anchored me. 


Sailing taught me you can’t do anything without a support network. It gave me friends that I hope to share all my life and made me firmly aware of just how far my parents and grandparents would go in order to support me (weekend drives to Scotland, I’m looking at you). I am so grateful for them and for their support. Knowing they’ve got my back makes me even more determined to be the very best lawyer I can be.


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