Tim Koch: Professionals Win At Henley

Two men who wrote rowing history, Martin Spencer (1970) and Bob Prentice (1973), the first working watermen to win at Henley Royal Regatta in 1976.

Tim Koch continues here with an interesting entry about two professionals, who have actually won at Henley:

The film director, Jules Dassin (or, more likely, one of his scriptwriters) observed that ‘There are eight million stories in the naked city.’ This may be true, but I would guess that there are probably even more stories to be found amongst those attending the Doggett’s Coat and Badge. This is just one of them.

While waiting to board the press launch at the 2011 Doggett’s, I began talking to Martin Spencer who won the race in 1970. I claim to be a rowing historian but I did not know that Martin, together with Robert ‘Bob’ Prentice (Doggett’s winner in 1973) were the first working watermen to win at Henley Royal Regatta. They achieved this in the Double Sculls in 1976, under the colours of London Rowing Club. This is not to say that they were the first watermen capable of such a feat, but for most of Henley’s existence they would have been barred as professionals. They were first in a boat together at Henley in 1967 when the younger Prentice was the coxswain.

Bob was National Youth Sculling Champion 1970 and 1971, represented Britain at the FISA Junior Championships 1970 and 1971, he won the double sculls at the National Championships 1976, 1977 and at the Home international 1976, 1977, and 1979. He is Tideway Waterman to Oxford University BC, a Queen’s Waterman, a former Waterman’s Bargemaster and the current Fishmongers’ Bargemaster. The latter post also means that he umpires the Doggett’s race. The record Bob set for the event in 1973 (23 minutes and 22 seconds) still stands.

Martin comes from a family with long associations with the river and two of his cousins wear the Coat and Badge. His father was a keen oarsman and the young Martin constantly asked to be taught to row. To delay the task, his father said that he must be able to swim ¼ mile, the width of the river at Greenwich. The 12-year-old Martin soon achieved a mile at the local swimming pool and so dad had no choice. He must had been a good teacher as, apart from his Doggett’s and Henley win, Martin competed in every Scullers Head from 1968 until 1982 and he won the event in 1980, beating Tim Crooks, a man with a formidable rowing record, by point two of a second.

Both Martin and Bob still look very lean and fit and one imagines that either could still jump into a sculling boat and show the youngsters a thing or two. They will both be ‘Swan Upping’ this week – more about that soon.

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