Survivor rescued 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 in July 1956 when they were caught up in widespread gales which swept across southern England, gusting at up to 90 miles an hour.

Constant 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. The conditions were so severe that Constant 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,” says 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.

“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.”

Constant 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.

Recording her story in an emotional festive video thanking RNLI volunteers for their service, Constant urges others to remember the charity that saves lives at sea, at Christmas. Thanks to her rescue, Constant 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.

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