The 306th Doggett’s: Worth the Wait

James Berry crosses the finish line, winning the 2020 Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager. The pandemic-delayed race finally took place on 25 June 2021. First held in 1715, Doggett’s is a sculling race for up to six watermen under 26 who have finished their apprenticeship. Unsuccessful competitors may have up to three consecutive attempts.

27 June 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch follows in the wake of history.

In my preview of the 306th race for the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, I did not need particularly great insight when I wrote that, “The favourite should be Berry – though he would be wise to be worried by Carter-Miller.” While it is true that second time competitor James Berry won in the end, he was “worried” – or perhaps even frightened – to a far greater degree than I thought may happen when the eventually second-placed new boy, Max Carter-Miller, lead the 7,400-metre race for most of its first 3,000 metres. This, combined with two other determined competitors and unexpected beguine weather and water conditions made for a great day.

Kenny Dwan (left) and Bobby Prentice (right), respectively the race assistant umpire and umpire.

Robert ‘Bobby’ Prentice (Doggett’s 1973) is the Bargemaster to the Fishmongers’ Company and, as such, is ex-officio the race umpire. He and Martin Spencer were the first working watermen to win at Henley Royal Regatta (Double Sculls, 1976). Ken Dwan represented Britain at the Olympic Games in 1968 and 1972 and is a multiple Wingfield’s and Scullers Head winner. The Dwan family has the most living Doggett’s winners. Ken (1971) is the father of Nicholas (2002) and Robert (2004). Ken’s brother, John, won in 1977 as did John’s son, Merlin, in 2012. Ken’s mother and Jack (2017) and Patrick (2019) Keech’s paternal grandmother were sisters.

Pre-race, James Berry seems confident.
The competitors wait to go onto the start. Left to right: Coran Cherry, George Gilbert, Max Carter-Miller, James Berry. Behind them is the former Hay’s Wharf, once an enclosed dock that, at its height, handled most of the dry produce imported into London.
The Doggett’s course is about 4.6 miles or 7,400 metres – that is 620 metres longer than the Putney to Mortlake, Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race distance. The event is also 114 years older than the Battle of the Blues. It is rowed upstream just after an hour after low water. For Friday’s race, the competitors faced a light head wind.
Umpire Prentice starts the race just upstream of London Bridge. Out of the picture near the left/south bank is Gilbert (in red kit), on the left of this picture is Carter-Miller (black), then Cherry (blue) and on the right/north bank, Berry (white). The river was closed for the race.

At 10.59, Umpire Prentice dropped his flag and the fine conditions allowed a good, clean start by all four scullers. Max Carter-Miller and James Berry immediately took the leading places, the live stream commentator, Robert Treharne Jones, suggesting that Berry was slightly in front and rating 30 strokes per minute (spm) before the first bridge on the course, Cannon Street Rail Bridge (250m into the race). 

In the 150m between Cannon Street and Southwark bridges however, Berry moved right across from the north bank station to race virtually alongside Carter-Miller — who was now in the lead and who went through the second bridge, Southwark (400m), leading the quartet.

Carter-Miller (left) and Berry (right) pass under the Millennium Footbridge. In the background are Blackfriars Rail and Blackfriars Road bridges.

The placings of Carter-Miller closely followed by Berry and then, further back, Gilbert clinging to the south bank and then, at the rear, the very game but inexperienced Cherry sculling precariously in the middle of the river, continued under the Millennium Footbridge (700m), Blackfriars Rail Bridge (1,050m) and Blackfriars Road Bridge (1,150m).

Carter-Miller (left) and Berry (right) pass under Blackfriars Road Bridge.

In the 850m between Blackfriars Road Bridge and Waterloo Bridge (2,000m), the scullers can choose to go inside the string of barges moored near the south bank (which cuts the corner and has flatter but slower water) or stay in the middle of the river (with its faster though rougher water and greater distance). First, second and third placed Carter-Miller, Berry and Gilbert chose the inside while fourth placed Cherry took the middle. As the rather raw Coran Cherry survived the unsettled centre of the river, it is difficult not to speculate that, if one or the other of Berry or Carter-Miller had taken the fast middle stream, would they have gained an unassailable lead? 

Approaching the barges between Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges, Gilbert is on the far left, Berry and Carter-Miller are centre left and Cherry is far right.
Only Cherry took the middle of the river alongside the barges. Given the conditions, some would argue that this was the best course.
Carter-Miller leads Berry sculling on the inside of the barges. Gilbert is behind them, out of shot.

After Waterloo Bridge, about six minutes into the race, Umpire Prentice decided to overtake Cherry in order to keep in touch with the other three competitors. 

Passing under Hungerford Bridge with Westminster Bridge and Parliament in the background. Left to right, it is Gilbert, Cherry, Berry and Carter-Miller.

The order remained unchanged under the Golden Jubilee Bridges and Hungerford Bridge (2,350m) but, in the approach to perhaps the most photographic part of the course with the backdrop of the Houses of Parliament, things changed. At about nine-and-a-half minutes into the race, just before Westminster Bridge (2,950m) Berry finally broke Carter-Miller and took the lead. 

Berry (left) finally leads at Westminster.

By the next bridge, Lambeth (3,650m), the approximate half-way point, Berry had visibly relaxed, lengthened out and went down to 24 spm and was slowly moving away from a pained Carter-Miller who was striking 22 spm and who suffered some erratic steering. 

Approaching the half-way point at Lambeth Bridge, Berry is in front.
A wide view of the approach to Lambeth Bridge gives some idea of how dwarfed the scullers must feel on a wide and fast flowing river lined in places by ridiculously tall buildings.

By Vauxhall Bridge (4,500m) the race was Berry’s to lose and when the sun came out as the old Battersea Power Station (5,900m) was passed, he may have thought that it was shining just on him.

After Lambeth Bridge.
Approaching Vauxhall Bridge.
Still in the approach to Vauxhall Bridge, Carter-Miller checks out Berry’s progress.
Through Vauxhall Bridge, Carter-Miller feels the pain.
Approaching the former Battersea Power Station.
Passing under Chelsea, the last bridge on the course.
In the final stretch towards Cadogan Pier (just in front of the Albert Bridge) Berry winds for home.

In the final straight stretch after the last bridge, Chelsea (6,300m), James Berry took the rate up to 27 spm for a “boathouse finish” and a time of 25 min 31 sec. 

Berry’s last few strokes.
Realisation
Joy
Overcome

Max Carter-Miller’s time of 26 min 07 secs was not a true indication of the difference between the two men as the second placed sculler is usually washed down in the final stages by the following flotilla. The fact that this is all part of the tradition of Doggett’s is probably of little solace. Both George Gilbert and Coran Cherry finished upright and under their own power, an achievement by most standards, the former in 27 min 19 sec, the latter in 32 min. 

The athletic, 6ft 4in Max Carter-Miller must be the favourite for the 2021 Doggett’s in September. George Gilbert and Coran Cherry will race again and there should be two or three new competitors – but they will all have to do something special to beat Carter-Miller.
Gilbert and, in the background, Cherry finish the race.
An emotional Berry with his parents.
Robert Dwan (2004) and Simon McCarthy (1984) commiserate with Carter-Miller.
Simon McCarthy welcomes James Berry into the Doggetts family. Simon is a fifth generation Waterman and a passionate supporter of Doggett’s. He rowed in the World Championships, 1980 – 1984.
Fizz all round. Left to right: Cherry, Carter-Miller, Berry, Gilbert.
James Berry with Bob Crouch (1958, left) and Alex Collins (1965, right). Crouch is the senior living Doggett’s winner.
The boys with Gina Blair, the current Master of the Waterman’s Company. Picture: Mark Blandford-Baker.
The Doggett’s Race for 2021 should take place on 8 September 2021.

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