D-Day, 25 June

The winner of the Doggetts Coat and Badge Wager receives a tailor-made scarlet costume modelled on the outfit of an 18th-century waterman – complete with a large and elaborate arm badge of solid silver. This picture shows a portrait of Herbert Clark who was victorious in 1948.

23 June 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch previews a lasting legacy.

The world’s oldest existing continuously run rowing race, the “Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager” was instituted in 1715 as an event for up to six men who had just finished the long apprenticeship to be allowed to carry goods and people on the River Thames. When Thomas Doggett instituted his eponymous race in 1715, he stated that it was to be held “on the first day of August forever.” More than 300 years later, the exact date has proven to be something of a movable feast but the “forever” part has been held true to the founder’s wishes – even if a little manipulation has been required.

In the 2012 Doggetts, Gary Annis (winner in 1982), watches the race approaching the former Battersea Power Station, approx. 6,500m into the race.

The 7,400-metre race from London Bridge to Chelsea was run annually from 1715 until the First World War intervened. There were no races 1915 – 1919 but, in 1920, six races were run over two days for those who had finished their apprenticeships in the missing years. The Second World War meant that there was no racing for the Coat and Badge between 1940 and 1946 and the eight postponed races were held over two days in 1947. COVID-19 delayed the 2020 race, the 306th, originally scheduled for 3 September 2020, and it was planned to be held on 16 March 2021. This date was again cancelled when it became clear that lockdown restrictions made training impossible and would not allow the race to take place. The date for the 2020 race is now 25 June 2021 and the 2021 race should take place on 8 September 2021.

Four young Watermen have entered the upcoming Doggetts: James Berry, George Gilbert, Max Carter-Miller and Coran Cherry. An interview with each of them appears on the website of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames. They all seem to have the right attitude and extracts from the interviews are recorded below.

James Berry at the 2019 Doggetts. He put in a strong performance and came second to the more experienced Patrick Keech.

I’ve been rowing since 2018, and I started because I wanted to compete in the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager.  The conditions (in 2019) were awful which made it a really tough race. I had to just stay focused, and keep pushing. I wasn’t worried that I wasn’t ahead from the start – I knew I had a strong second half of the race, and there were a couple of points where I really felt I could have overtaken Patrick. In the end I came second – I’m proud of that race, but I will do better this time….  (Training during lockdown) has been hard – especially trying to keep motivated when we couldn’t get out on the water. I bought a rowing machine so I could keep training… It’s tough, but my priority right now is rowing. I want to win the Wager for myself, and to create a legacy for my family.

George Gilbert takes the relaxed way home in the 2019 Doggetts.

I didn’t get much training in for the 2019 race – I think I underestimated rowing, and I took a break after. But I’m working up at Hammersmith at the moment and seeing all the rowers out, I really wanted to have another go. So at the end of 2020 I decided to do the race again… I’m excited. When I first started training for this one I was focused on doing well, but now I want to win.

(Training) was tough at first – training in winter is always cold and hard, but it was really difficult to get out on the water with the pandemic restrictions. Now they are lifted, it is getting better and better and I’m really enjoying it… There’s been less time on the water (but) I’ve been able to do so much in the last few months, with great support from my coach, Gary Annis and others. I’m really looking forward to the race now… I’m thinking of starting racing with my club after Doggett’s.

Max Carter-Miller in training.

My Grandad took me down to Poplar (Poplar, Blackwall & District Rowing Club, a famous breeding ground for Doggett’s winners) when I first apprenticed – he’s rowed (Doggetts) too, so it’s in my family. Originally I wanted to play cricket, so I actually went back to college, but when I came back I took up rowing again, and now I can’t get enough of it. As I said, my grandad has competed too, so that was a massive factor (in wanting to compete). Also, I work for Thames Marine Services, who have four or five previous winners: my Captain is Harry McCarthy, and my bosses are the Dwans (who have all won) and they are really encouraging. In fact they told me not to come back to work unless I win…they are joking I think! My club… is really supportive too, which helps. But at the end of the day I want to win it for me too – you’ve got to, to do all the training. Once I’ve started something I want to finish it, and for this race, you’ve got to want to smash it.

Coran Cherry drinks to success.

I started (sculling) at the beginning of 2020, because I wanted to take part in the (Doggetts) Wager. It’s been fun, but trickier than I thought – I’ve fallen in a fair few times. I’ve always been interested in it, but I was too old. Now they have raised the age limit, I can do it. It’s a big tradition, and just to compete is a big honour. I’ll be the first in my family.

For me (the two race postponements have) been a little bit of a result. I’ve been able to utilise the time to really work on my technique and get the small things right; putting me mentally in a much stronger place.

I’m training around five to six days a week. Fortunately, now it’s back on the water. I’ve been driving my neighbours crazy on the erg at all random times of the day. It has become a little harder now trying to fit it around work but I’m making it work.

Contestants and spectators at a Doggetts race held sometime between 1822 and 1824. The pre-1825 Old London Bridge and the pre-1827 Fishmongers’ Hall are shown. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The favourite should be Berry – though he would be wise to be worried by Carter-Miller. However, Doggetts is an unforgiving race of 7,400 metres of unsettled and unsuitable water containing washes, bends and currents, plus the potential to hit any of fourteen bridges and numerous other unyielding objects. Thus, however good a competitor is, in Doggetts each sculler is always only one stroke away from disaster.

The race for the 2020 Doggetts will be live-streamed on YouTube on Friday, 25 June 2021 from 10.50 BST.

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