Salvation Army crew from Tunbridge Wells take to the high seas to help fight trafficking

The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells gave a professional level performance in the  ISA drama contests

A CREW from Tunbridge Wells took on a gruelling Round the Island Race at the Isle of Wight in their bid to raise funds for The Salvation Army.


The proceeds of their sponsorship will go towards the charity’s work in tackling modern slavery both in the UK and Poland.


Robert Banks, Hamish McKeown, Christopher Hunt and church leader Captain Graeme Smith joined more than 1,200 other boats on July 7.


Sadly, they were unable to finish the race, which is 50 nautical miles in length, due to the weather conditions.


Extreme heat and no wind meant the tide got the better of their craft and they had to retire. Only 656 of the 1,204 entrants completed the course.


The 87th edition of the race was described by the Island Sailing Club as ‘one of the most challenging on record’.


The four friends, aged 40 to 50, decided to undertake the challenge less than a year ago, despite only one of them having any previous sailing experience.


Robert owns the five-berth yacht Matuta and has been sailing for about 15 years. He is the skipper of Team Matuta, and said: ‘The Round the Island Race is a challenge I have always wanted to take on.


He added: ‘My brother and sister-in-law are church leaders for The Salvation Army in Poland, which is known as Armia Zbawienia in Polish, and they have told me about the work they are involved in supporting anti-human trafficking there, and I know about similar work by our organisation in the UK.


‘The decision to form a team with Graeme, Hamish and Chris was easy, really, as everyone was eager to take on the race. We all knew this was the cause we wanted to raise money for.


Robert compared the invigorating task in stunning surroundings to the plight of those who they are looking to support.


People trafficked across the oceans of the world often end up in modern slavery


‘This is in sharp contrast to the people we are trying to help who often cannot see the end of the difficult situations they find themselves in.


‘People trafficked across the oceans of the world often end up in modern slavery and forced into another form of exploitation, such as servitude or compulsory labour.


‘All the money we raise through this race will enable The Salvation Army to carry on its excellent work raising awareness and supporting those who find themselves victims of modern slavery.’


During their training programme, the team had to battle extreme weather conditions, including three inches of snow and ice, scorching sunshine and gale force seven winds.


Church leader Graeme said: ‘I first went out on the yacht in May, although Rob has been training us on land for some time now.


‘I can’t swim so there’s been a lot to learn to ensure we were all safe at sea as well as getting to grips with all the important nautical terms and how to control the yacht.


‘It’s physically hard work and I have definitely got fitter through the training – I took up running earlier this year which has helped my overall fitness.’


He added: ‘Sailing is something I have always wanted to do but never have had the opportunity.


‘I’ve recently discovered that two of my distant relatives were admirals in the Royal Navy, so you could say sailing is in my blood. Some have even joked that we could form The Salvation Navy!’


The Salvation Army provides specialist support for potential adult victims of modern slavery and human trafficking via a UK government contract.


A 24-hour Victim Referral Helpline is available seven days a week on 0300 303 8151.


It offers immediate access to specialised support, such as counselling, interpretation services, legal and immigration advice, medical and financial assistance and safe house accommodation if needed.


For more information about the anti-trafficking campaign visit


PICTURE: ROPED IN: (L-R) Captain Graeme Smith, Hamish McKeown, Christopher Hunt and Matuta’s skipper, Robert Banks, in dock at Southampton

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