The 2012 Doggett’s Wager

Nick Dwan (2002), Terry Enver (2008) and Robert Dwan (2004)

HTBS’s Tim Koch reports from London:

The 298th Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager will take place on Friday 20 July. HTBS has previously reported on the 2010 and the 2011 races and has explained the origins of this strangely titled contest.

For those who have not heard of it, ‘Doggett’s’ is a sculling race of 4.6 miles / 7400 metres on the River Thames, only open to those who have finished their apprenticeship to become Watermen in the preceding three years. Historically, these ‘Freemen’ are the only people allowed to carry goods and passengers on the river. Although there was much gambling on the outcome in the past, the word ‘wager’ is used in the historical sense, that of ‘an ancient form of trial by personal combat between the parties or their champions’ (Oxford English Dictionary).

 2011 Doggett’s: Dan Alloway by HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge

In the league of continuously held sports events, Doggett’s is the world’s oldest rowing contest (first held in 1715) and the second oldest British sporting competition (the oldest is an archery competition, the ‘Antient Silver Arrow’, held every year since 1673 in Scorton, North Yorkshire).

The draw for the 2012 race, the colours and the stations are as follows:
1 Royal Blue: L. Hart
2 Light Blue: B. McCann
3 Red: M. Dwan
4 Green: S. Coleman
5 Yellow: N. Brice
6 Orange: D. Alloway

Traditionally, only those in their first year of ‘freedom’ from their apprenticeship could race but, since 1988, in an effort to keep the standard of the event up, unsuccessful competitors have been allowed to compete again in their second or third years of freedom, subject to a maximum age of 26 on the day of the race. Four of the competitors raced last year. Of these Merlin Dwan must be the favourite as, in the rough conditions of the 2011 race, he finished 7 seconds behind the winner, Chris Anness. Dan Alloway was 1 minute 52 seconds behind Anness, Stuart Coleman was 4 minutes behind and Ben McCann came in 4 minutes 50 seconds behind. I do not know the form of Hart and Brice, but I think the latter is a seasoned competitor. The rowing historian in me is supporting Dwan as he comes from the family with the most living Doggett’s winners. Ken Dwan won in 1971, John Dwan in 1979, Nick Dwan in 2002 and Robert Dwan in 2004.

 2011 Doggett’s: Ben McCann and Merlin Dwan

There is an exciting follow up to the Doggett’s this year. To celebrate The Queen’s 60 year reign, there will be a Diamond Jubilee Coat and Badge Wager on Tuesday, 4 September. The winner will receive a blue jubilee coat with a newly designed badge. Details have yet to be decided but there is a precedent from the year 2000. To mark the millennium a double sculls race was held for a freeman sculling with an apprentice. It was won by John Dwan and Mark Hunter. A picture of Hunter in his Millennium Coat and Badge and the interesting story of his career from apprentice waterman to captain of Leander is here.

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