Llandudno blind veteran raced to help family on burning boat despite ‘fierce’ six-foot flames

A BLIND veteran helped to rescue three family members from a yacht which caught on fire in Conwy Estuary over the Easter weekend.

John Nicol, 82, of Llandudno, was travelling from Conwy Harbour to Puffin Island with his friend when they noticed the yacht on fire in the distance.

The pair turned around and headed towards the “uncontrollable” fire.

Mr Nicol said: “I am a member of North Wales Cruising club and every year we go out for our first sailing of the year to check that the yachts are fit to sail after the winter. Just as we set out my friend pointed out the fire so we immediately went over to see if we could help”.

John, who has been supported by the charity Blind Veterans UK since 2015, managed to safely get the mother and son of the family onto his boat before providing the skipper of the yacht with a fire extinguisher.

Unfortunately, the six-foot flames were far too fierce, but John managed to help the skipper onto his boat moments before the yacht “exploded”.

Mr Nicol added said: “I have sailed for 50 years and was a coast guard for 18. Luckily, I know all the procedures, so I was able to give the coastguard all the information they needed.

“It all happened so quickly. It was awful what happened, and I feel dreadfully sorry for the family but luckily no one was hurt”.

The rescued family members, who are from Rhos-on-Sea, sent a message of thanks last week to everyone who came to their aid during the incident on April 3.

Conwy RNLI volunteer crew were paged at 1.37pm to launch and assist the yacht.

Multiple agencies offered assistance including the HM Coastguard, Llandudno Coastguard Rescue Team, North Wales Police and North Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

The yacht skipper, who wishes to remain anonymous said: “We couldn’t have been more prepared for this trip. The yacht was our prized possession having been lovingly restored and very well equipped. We have drills, safety briefings and never ever expected anything like this to happen. Luckily we all knew exactly what to do.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened if we’d not been so prepared. We were all astounded at how quickly the fire took hold and I’m sure seeing this has shaken up the local sailing community. You just don’t expect this to happen, so I’d urge anyone thinking of heading out to sea to prepare for every eventuality.”

“Everything happened so quickly, our attempts to extinguish the flames were futile but we were quickly taken to safety and just had to watch as our dream project went up in smoke.

“We had spent every weekend making sure the boat was maintained and prepared and although it’s very sad, we’re still here and that’s the most important thing.

“Everyone who attended and helped out was magnificent and without them the outcome come have been quite different.”

Mr Nicol joined the Army in 1955 serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). He was based in Germany and his main role was to ensure that all the vehicles were in good working order. He was demobbed in 1963 as a first-class Craftsman.

He lost his sight due to Anterior Ischaemic Optic Neuropathy (AION) and Glaucoma.

Fortunately, Mr Nicol found out about Blind Veterans UK and started to receive support from the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women. He began volunteering at the charity about six years ago.

Before pandemic, he regularly helped out at the charity’s training and rehabilitation centre in Llandudno with the activities and taking members on trips out into Llandudno town centre.

North Wales Pioneer | Llandudno