Survivor rescued by Selsey lifeboat in 1956 thanks RNLI for 65 Christmases
A 76-year-old woman rescued from a sinking yacht by the volunteer crew of the Selsey lifeboat 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 on board a 40ft ketch, Maaslust on the weekend of 28/29 July 1956 when they were caught up in widespread gales which swept across southern England, gusting at up to 90 miles an hour.
She has recorded her story in an emotional festive video, joining 13 other survivors from across the globe, thanking RNLI volunteers for their service and urging others to remember the charity that saves lives at sea, at Christmas.
With Coronavirus restrictions preventing those who have been rescued from visiting lifeboat stations, the video highlights survivors able to celebrate Christmas this year because of the actions of the RNLI.
Nicki was rescued in what, at that time, was the RNLI’s busiest day to date. 38 lifeboat stations made a total of 52 launches, 107 people were rescued and 14 vessels were saved. Lifeboat crews from Selsey, Dover and Dungeness were awarded medals for their actions in saving lives at sea.
The conditions were so severe that Nicki, who was just a few days short of her twelfth birthday, was battened down below decks with her mother and their friend’s baby as the vessel battled a force 12 hurricane.
‘It was very violent, very violent seas. Everything was just crashing around. The noise from the wind and the waves was huge,’ remembers Nicki. ‘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 later discovered the conditions were so severe 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. Nicki can distinctly remember the moment of rescue:
‘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 being rescued 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 and every Christmas urges people to remember the RNLI and the second chance the charity gave her in life.
‘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,’ 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’.
More details on the actions of the Selsey lifeboat on the weekend of 28/29 July 1956 can be found via this link: https://rnli.org/news-and-media/2020/november/11/selsey-remembers-george-woodland-who-served-with-the-station-for-over-60-years
RNLI lifesavers continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep people safe as lockdown restrictions eased and people flocked to the coast. 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 had to spend £1.2M this year to ensure its volunteer lifeboat crews and beach lifeguards had the vital PPE, such as face masks and gloves, to keep our lifesavers safe. This was money the charity hadn’t planned to spend, at a time when RNLI shops were forced to close and fundraising events were cancelled.
To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal visit: RNLI.org/Xmas
Notes to Editor:
- Compilation of thank you messages available for download here.
- Further case studies with footage and thank you messages are available.
- For 2020, the RNLI purchased 6.7 million units of coronavirus PPE including almost 700,000 face masks, 2.4 million gloves and just under 5,000 litres of hand sanitiser.
For more information please contact the RNLI National Press Office on 01202 336 789 or Press_Office@rnli.org.uk.RNLI online
For more information on the RNLI please visit rnli.org. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI News Centre rnli.org/news-and-media.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.