Doggett’s 2019: Brutal!

Welcome to the club. The Doggett’s Coat and Badge, the single sculling race for newly qualified Thames Watermen run since 1715, was won on 4 September by 21-year-old Patrick ‘Paddy’ Keech, beating three other contenders over a 7,400-metre stretch between London Bridge and Albert Bridge. Here Keech (left) is congratulated by the 2018 winner, Alfie Anderson.

7 September 2019

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch follows in the wake of an historic race. He is still drying out.

I rarely make predictions when it comes to rowing races and generally adopt the noncommittal approach exemplified by misquoting University Boat Race commentator, John Snagge, and his famous statement in the middle of the 1949 contest that the leader was ‘either Oxford or Cambridge’. However, in my recent preview of the 2019 Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, I boldly wrote that:

On the scant information that I have, it seems obvious to predict a win for Patrick Keech – unless Old Father Thames has other ideas.

Well, Keech was the winner – even though Old Father Thames did have other ideas and did his very best to turn the contest into one of survival and not speed. Further, it was not only the aquatic deity that tried to prevent Keech from becoming the 305th man to win Doggett’s, his fellow competitor James Berry came very close to denying him the prize Coat and Badge.

The four scullers who lined up just downstream of London Bridge at 2 pm on 4 September were all first time Doggett’s competitors, meaning that three of them have two more chances at racing for Doggett’s.

Racing on Station 4, closest to the south shore (left as the race goes) was Jack Finelli of Globe Rowing Club in dark blue.
On Station 3 was George Gilbert, also of Globe RC, in green.
Station 2 was drawn by James Berry rowing under the colours of King’s School, Canterbury, in light blue.
Patrick Keech of Tideway Scullers was in red on Station 1, closest to the north shore (right as the race goes).
Bobbie Prentice (Doggett’s 1973) is the Fishmongers’ Company Bargemaster and was thus, ex officio, the race umpire.
Waiting for the start. In the sculling boats are Berry (left) and Finelli (right), in the slipper launch is umpire Prentice, the orange inflatables carry the media, the grey inflatables are the rescue boats, one per competitor. Picture: @Ian_Brooker.

Doggett’s is nowadays raced with the tide. However, the wind was blowing hard in the opposite direction to the tidal flow, stirring the water up and producing conditions that more than one seasoned observer described as ‘brutal’. Unfortunately, the conditions were not only savage for the competitors, they were also pretty bloody terrible for the few photographers attempting to cover the event. Someone had thought that a couple of four person inflatable dinghies were suitable ‘press boats’. They were not.

An typical example of many of my pictures. The small inflatables would have been unfit for photography on a calm day but, into a headwind against the tide, it was almost impossible to take sharp or close-up images, or even to make notes. Further, I did not mind getting drenched before the first ten strokes were taken, but I did mind my camera equipment getting soaked. This was not the way to encourage media coverage of Doggett’s.
Initially, Berry (left) and Keech (right) hugged the north shore, Berry taking the lead.
Off the start, Gilbert (right) froze in the frightening conditions, did not start to scull and was immediately passed by the umpire. Finelli (just visible on the left) hugged the south shore, and was always well behind Berry and Keech for the rest of the race.
By the time they reached the first bridge, Cannon Street Rail (250 metres into the 7,400-metre race), Keech (left) have moved out into the stream, in the faster but rougher water, Berry stayed in the flatter but slower water along the north shore. This continued through the next bridge, Southwark (400 metres).
Nearing the Millennium Foot Bridge (700 metres), its Finelli (left), Keech (centre) and Berry (right).
Finelli, approaching Blackfriars Rail Bridge (1,050 metres), looks around to see Keech passing under Blackfriars Road Bridge (1,150 metres).
Before Waterloo Bridge (2000 metres), Keech (far left) decided to go inside of the so-called Coin Street barges along the south shore where the water is slower but calmer. Perhaps going against conventional wisdom for the conditions, Berry decided to keep to the middle of the river and go on the outside of the barges, staying in the fast but rough water. Finelli followed Keech on the inside.
Umpire Prentice perhaps wondering who will come out ahead past the barges. Around this point, he ‘dropped’ Finelli and went past him.
Keech came out in front after the barges and, going through Waterloo Bridge and (here) Westminster Bridge by the Houses of Parliament (2,950 metres) seemed to have a lead unlikely to be challenged. Old hands say that whoever leads at Waterloo will win.
Passing alongside the Houses of Parliament, the water conditions had improved and Berry perhaps decided that the race was not yet over. Around this point, Berry moved out into the faster water and Keech stayed closer to the shore.
Approaching Lambeth Bridge (3,650 metres, approximately half-way) Berry makes a big effort to get back into contention. Here, he appears to be in the lead but this is just an illusion caused by the camera angle.
At Millbank Millennium Pier, between Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges.
By Vauxhall bridge (4,500 metres) the conditions had again deteriorated it was clear that Berry’s challenge had not succeeded.
Berry never gave up and battled on, manfully trying to cope with the elements. Here, with just over 1000 metres to go, the two scullers head for Grosvenor Rail Bridge and the adjacent Chelsea Bridge (6,300 metres).
Gilbert takes the easy way to the finish.
In the final stretch, the finish line awaits just past the first large white boat. Keech is ahead by 12 – 15 lengths but, even with such a lead, the conditions meant that he was always only one disastrous stroke away from losing.
Patrick Keech, the 305th winner of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager in an unofficial time of 29 minutes 21seconds.

Patrick rowed as a child and won at the Ball Cup Regatta when he was 11. He then gave up rowing for sailing and eventually became a European Silver Medalist in the 29er Class. Going to Portsmouth University, he started rowing again, and on graduation went to Tideway Scullers at Chiswick, West London. Here he was coached by, among others, his brother Jack, who won Doggett’s in 2017, and his father, Tim, who came second in 1983 and 1984. Patrick is entitled to race Doggett’s as he has Freedom of the Company by Patrimony (that is, his father was a Freeman when Patrick was born).

The winner of a brutal race. Picture: Ben Fitzpatrick.

I got some post-race comment from Patrick’s father, Tim:

It was close between Patrick and James from the outset. They’ve raced each other at Molesey, Kingston and Henley Town and Visitors and there has not been a lot to choose (between them over a short course) all summer… Today, Patrick probably steered a better course for the conditions. (He went on the inside of the barges at Coin Street where) you get protection from the weather, you get flat water, you can really get some work done. I’ve always thought that it’s one of those places in the race where you can really stamp your authority.

Keech and Berry – respect all round.

Second placed James Berry:

I was happy with my start. If I had more experience, my size would have helped me deal with the conditions, I did not cope with them as well as Patrick did. In the third quarter, I felt that I was coming back (as the conditions improved) but the water got really bad again towards the end. (I stayed in the middle at Coin Street because) it was the only way that I had practised, also I did not want to get used to the good water on the inside (of the barges) and then having the shock of coming out into rough water again – that was what was going through my mind. I was pretty happy with the line I took, there were some steering issues where I was a bit wide, but I think that came down to tiredness… I’ll be back next year.

If Berry keeps training hard for the next year, I would not be surprised if he won in 2020.

Umpire Prentice jokingly reminds Gilbert that ‘go’ means ‘go’.

Umpire Bobby Prentice:

It was always going to be a hard race with the conditions; a late tide coming in, the wind holding it back… we had the flood tide with the wind hard against it. The first third of the course was very, very lumpy and some of the lads are new to sculling… I thought that James was going to slip by at Nine Elms (just after Vauxhall Bridge)… he steered a bit wide, stuck on that north shore, and that cost him… A hard but good race.

Pop stars.
Keen boxer, Finelli, shows what he is made of.
Keech admires Anderson’s badge. In a ceremony at Fishmongers’ Hall in November, he will be awarded one of his own.
In the future, Keech may also wear one of these – the Waterman’s Bargemaster’s badge, currently held by Robert Coleman (Doggett’s 1996).
Hail the Conquering Hero. Patrick is greeted by family and friends onboard the Keech family boat that had been moored at the finish. On the left is 11-year-old Alfie Keech who told me that he will be competing in the 2029 Doggett’s. After talking to the confident young man, I am already prepared to predict his victory.
Patrick discovers that the ladies love a Doggett’s Man.

A final word from Patrick:

James was in front up until Waterloo Bridge which was where I over took and then held onto the lead to the finish. Thoughts on the day? It’s such a special race to win, and you get a feeling that I myself have never had before. Really tough conditions for all competitors and everyone done well to survive, the wind was brutal. You could never get into any rhythm as you would be swamped by a real boat stopper wave every few strokes especially the last stretch up to the line. It’s nice to see all my training and early mornings paid off!

Returning to Central London from Chelsea on the Keech family boat, we passed the Houses of Parliament where the debate over Brexit was in full flow. The politicians may think that they are having a hard time, but, until you have rowed for Doggett’s in ‘brutal’ conditions, you probably have no idea what a ‘hard time’ really is.

3 comments

  1. Words cannot describe how proud we are of James competing and gaining 2nd place. Having only just started sculling roughly 10 months ago, holding down his job which is shift work and fitting in training he’s been amazing! Our family and friends will continue to support him and look forward to sharing the experience with him next year. #proudparents #doggettscoatandbadge

  2. Such a shame Jack FINELLI has made such an effort throughout the year to be in a position to take part in such a massive event for someone then not be able to even spell his name correctly.
    Well done Jack your whole family are so so proud of you….bring on next year.

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