Here is Tim Koch’s report from the 301st Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race:
I followed the 301st Doggett’s Coat and Badge race in the press launch but, as I was preoccupied with taking photographs, I have relied very heavily on the race notes made by Rachel Quarrell in compiling this report. It was very kind of her to make them available to me, but any mistakes are my own. A map of the course is here.
The weather provided beautiful anniversary conditions with a breeze which produced a slight head wind in places. As the race was early on the flood, the tide was quite low with a light run. The stations were, south bank to north bank: Frankie Ruler (red), Dom Coughlin (orange), Ben Folkard (green), Perry Flynn (yellow), Charlie Maynard (light blue), Louis Pettipher (dark blue).
At the start, upstream of London Bridge, Pettipher, Maynard and Folkard set off promptly at the flag-fall, but the other three hesitated. Coughlin lagged behind as they aligned, Flynn struggled to find a rhythm and Ruler was passed almost at once by the umpire. Umpire Prentice later told me that he turned the two least experienced scullers a little early but that they did not really take advantage of this. As 1984 winner Simon McCarthy said afterwards, ‘it’s part and parcel of the race to make sure that you are in position and that you get off quick’.
At the first bridge, Cannon Street Rail (250 m into the race) all were mostly still on station, with Pettipher slightly in front, Folkard and Maynard perhaps a second behind, Coughlin 10 seconds back and Flynn 20 seconds behind the leader.
The positions remained similar through the next bridge, Southwark (400 m) but by the Millennium Foot Bridge (700 m) the leading three were still very close but the order was just distinguishable as Pettipher followed by Folkard, followed by Maynard. The latter two started to converge after this point and Flynn struggled as the water became more unsettled.
Blackfriars Rail Bridge (1,050 m) was reached by the leaders in approximately three minutes. Pettipher started to move more ahead, staying largely in the centre, both Maynard and Folkard had moved to the south bank while Coughlin and Flynn had dropped back. By Blackfriars Road Bridge (1,150 m) there was a stronger head wind and Maynard’s and Folkard’s route over the slacks beside the moored boats allowed them to gain on Pettipher who chose to hold the central stream. Just beyond this point, the umpire passed Flynn.
At 2,000 m, Waterloo Bridge, Pettipher was still leading despite his choice of course, and over to the south bank, Folkard started to catch up with Maynard who he had fallen behind. The approximate times here were Pettipher 6.25, Maynard 6.28 and Folkard 6.36. Here the umpire passed Coughlin which allowed the following launches to catch up with the leaders.
Excitement mounted approaching the Golden Jubilee Bridges and Hungerford Bridge (2,350 m), as Folkard took the lead and Maynard drew level with Pettipher, the latter paying the price for staying in the centre while his opponents took to the slacks. The estimated times were Folkard 7.42 and Maynard and Pettipher 7.47.
Pettipher, however, was not finished and at the most photogenic part of the course, just before the Houses of Parliament, in the words of Rachel Quarrell, ‘Pettipher’s longer and more effective stroke began to tell’. He put in a big push and in less than a minute passed first Maynard and then Folkard. Pettipher reached Westminster Bridge (2,950 m) in 10.02, Folkard in 10.04 and Maynard in 10.08.
Beyond Westminster, all moved to the north shore. At the approximate half-way point, Lambeth Bridge (3,650 m), Petippher was rating 29 and recorded 12.32, Folkard was rating 27 and recorded 12.44 (despite nearly hitting the bridge) and Maynard was rating 24 and recorded 12.45. It was clear that, barring disasters such as hitting the MV ‘Jewel of London’, which he almost did, the race was now Pettipher’s and at Vauxhall Bridge (4,500 m) the times were Pettipher 15.13, Folkard 15.28 and Maynard 15.33.
Approaching the old Battersea Power Station (5,900 m) the tide slackened and the water flattened out and Pettipher’s tendency to move to the centre actually helped him for a change. The race order at this point probably reflected the competitor’s different levels of ability and fitness and it may have been expected that the three would increasingly string out in the final 2,000 metres. However, Maynard decided to fight back and there was a splendid battle between him and Folkard for second place.
At Battersea it was Pettipher 20.26, Folkard 20.54 and Maynard 20.57 but the fight between the second and third placed scullers was most intense just before and just after Chelsea Bridge (6,300 m). Ultimately however, Folkard hung on and resisted Maynard’s spirited challenges. The official winner’s time for Pettipher was 24.23 with unofficial times for Folkard of 24.45 and for Maynard of 24.52. Eventually, all six competitors finished the course and, in this very tough event, each should consider that a victory in itself.
Simon McCarthy summed up the day:
That was one of the best races we have seen for a long time….. To be honest, Louis Pettipher steered a dreadful course… but it doesn’t matter, they are not going to put that on his badge. It’s the same for Ben Folkard, he steered a bad course and lost himself some time but he pulled it back and the race between him and Charlie Maynard was amazing…. It’s such a shame as it’s a great day for one person and a sad day for the others but it’s all part of Doggett’s….. Look around here, see all the family boats, there is big, big pressure on these boys, and that’s what makes the race what it is.
After the prize-giving, Louis said:
I had a great race, I enjoyed it, I had a plan, I executed it and I came first….. I wanted to go inside…. after Blackfriars but we were level at that point and going across would have caused a clash so I had to fight the centre and it was really choppy but I knew that once it settled, they would have to come across to me and that’s when I could put the hammer down…. At Westminster when I was in front of Ben (Folkard), I knew that if I stayed cool it was in the bag, though I still had a lot to do, it was only half way…. I’m not going to say it’s been easy, it’s been really hard mentally and physically… (but) I enjoyed it, I love my friends, a great day, great atmosphere, the best day of my life……
© Photography: Tim Koch