Grandmother records emotional thank you message to RNLI crew which saved her life during hurricane

A 76-year-old woman rescued from a sinking yacht during a hurricane by Selsey lifeboat voluneers when she was just 11 years old, has thanked the RNLI for the 65 Christmases she has enjoyed since.

Friday, 11th December 2020, 5:57 pm
Updated Friday, 11th December 2020, 6:00 pm

Nicki Constant, along with her parents and family friends, were 'saying our prayers, thinking we were never going to get home at all' when they were caught up in a force 12 hurricane, on board a 40ft ketch, Maaslust in July 1956.

Nicki, who was just a few days short of her 12th birthday, sheltered below deck with her mother and their friend’s baby as widespread gales swept across southern England, gusting at up to 90 miles an hour.

They were eventually rescued in what, at that time, was the RNLI’s busiest ever day, with 107 people saved. Lifeboat crews from Selsey, Dover and Dungeness were awarded medals for their actions in saving lives at sea.

The crew of the 'Canadian Pacific' that responded to the 'Masslust'. Photo: RNLI

Nearly 65 years later, Nicki has recorded her story in an emotional festive video, joining other survivors in thanking RNLI volunteers for their service and urging others to remember the charity that saves lives at sea, at Christmas. Click here to watch the videoRecounting her ordeal, she said: "It was very violent, very violent seas. Everything was just crashing around. The noise from the wind and the waves was huge.

"The boat was tossing around so much, at one stage it literally went on its side and the mainsail went under the water and they got it back up again, but eventually we didn’t have any mainsail left at all, it was torn to shreds.

"It was exceedingly frightening and my mum and I we were down below saying our prayers, thinking we were never going to get home at all, we really thought our end had come.

"Absolutely definitely, it was impossible to think we could be rescued."

Nicki has recorded her story in an emotional festive video, joining other survivors in thanking RNLI volunteers for their service and urging others to remember the charity that saves lives at sea, at Christmas.

The conditions were so severe that the people of Selsey didn’t think their volunteer crew would survive.

After the lifeboat had launched from the beach the villagers remained kneeling in prayer, as they thought they’d never see them again.

By the time the Selsey lifeboat Canadian Pacific arrived to try and rescue those on board the Maaslust the seas were so violent the Selsey crew were in danger of being crushed by the larger vessel.

"They lined up on the side of the boat, six of them with arms outstretched and they said just hold your arms out and we’ll grab you, so I just held my arms out and then they tossed me like a fish over their heads and landed me on the deck," Nicki said.

"The lifeboat people were absolutely heroic. Without them I certainly wouldn’t be here, my family wouldn’t be here, because the boat sank later on and we would have gone down with it and we wouldn’t have been able to swim ashore in that weather."

Thanks to the lifeboat volunteers, Nicki went on to become a sports teacher and had two children of her own, a son, who is a vet, and a daughter, also a teacher. She also has two grand-children.

Every Christmas, she urges people to remember the RNLI and the second chance the charity gave her in life.

She said: "In this strange year, we’ve been separated from our loved ones and it’s really important that we give to all the charities and especially for me to the lifeboat people, because they are volunteers.

"So many lives are saved during the year and every penny has to be raised from somewhere.

"I do think about them at Christmas and also all the year really. These families that the lifeboat men and lifeboat women belong to, they have to release their folks even at Christmas. There might be a rescue on Christmas day."

As a charity, the RNLI relies on the support of the public to continue saving lives – and that support is needed now more than ever as the charity’s fundraising has taken a huge hit this year.

The lifesaving charity, which has continued to work throughout the pandemic, had to spend £1.2m this year to ensure its volunteer lifeboat crews and beach lifeguards had the vital PPE.

This was money the charity 'hadn’t planned to spend', at a time when RNLI shops were forced to close and fundraising events cancelled.

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal visit: RNLI.org/Xmas

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