A grandmother rescued from a sinking yacht during a hurricane when she was just 11 years old has thanked the RNLI for the 65 Christmases she has enjoyed since.
Nicki Constant was with her parents and family friends aboard a 40ft boat in July 1956 when they were caught up in gales that were lashing southern England, gusting at up to 90 miles an hour.
She and others sheltered below deck and prayed for their survival as the yacht was tossed and battered by violent seas during the force 12 hurricane.
She was eventually rescued in what was at the time the RNLI’s busiest day ever, with 107 people helped to safety.
More than 60 years later, she has recorded an emotional video about her experiences and joined other survivors in thanking RNLI volunteers for their service.
“It was very violent, very violent seas. Everything was just crashing around. The noise from the wind and the waves was huge,” said Ms Constant.
“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”.
Sheltering below deck, she and her mother feared they were never going to make it home.
“Absolutely definitely, it was impossible to think we could be rescued,” Ms Constant said.
The hurricane brought such rough seas that villagers in Selsey knelt in prayer, fearing that their lifeboat crew would never be seen again.
By the time the Selsey lifeboat Canadian Pacific arrived to try to rescue those on the Maaslust yacht, the seas were so violent the RNLI crew were in danger of being crushed by the larger vessel.
Ms Constant recalls: “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.
“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 crew, Ms Constant went on to become a sport teacher and is now a grandmother.
As they look forward to Christmas, these survivors and their families wanted to share messages of thanks to the lifesavers that rescued them: https://t.co/3GVbe5ZihL
And that includes you, because without your donations we wouldn't be able to continue saving lives at sea.
— RNLI (@RNLI) December 8, 2020
Every Christmas she urges people to remember the RNLI and the second chance the charity gave her in life.
She said: “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 it says that support is needed now more than ever as the charity’s fundraising has taken a huge hit this year, along with £1.2m extra having to be spent on PPE.
To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal visit: RNLI.org/Xmas