John Allen reports on the 290th Doggett's Coat & Badge apprentices' race
London Bridge to Chelsea, Monday 19th July 2004
With a runaway victory over three other contenders for the Doggett's Coat & Badge, Robert Dwan consolidated his family name among the legendary dynasties of London Watermen. The fourth in two generations of Dwans to win the saucer-sized sterling arm-badge contested annually since 1715, 21-year old Robert came near to making more history with a time just eleven seconds outside the race record for the London Bridge to Chelsea course.
There is no concealing that Dwan was odds on before the start. He never looked in danger once he had dislodged Mark Towens' tenacious opposition which held until Blackfriars. Christopher Manktelow and Jack Dean were trailing by this point and even Manktelow's notional advantage by starting under the shelter of the south shore availed him nothing in the benign mid-day conditions.
A procession settled down - in the sequence Dwan, Towens, Manktelow, Dean - and remained unchanged to the finish. With little upset in prospect, the race cognoscenti, armed with a stopwatch and archives, perked up with hopes for a new record. This was on the cards as far as Lambeth, which was reached by Dwan, rating 32,in 12 mins 20 secs.
In his isolated world the leading sculler was unaware of the history-making possibility. He settled to a comfortable 27 and thereby slipped from the record book. With no aquatic excitement to subdue, Bob Prentice's umpiring judgement became necessarily focussed on the stages in the race at which to take his launch past the trailing contenders.
For Jack Dean this humbling point came at the Oxo Tower. Chris Manktelow was passed at Lambeth, and Mark Towens left behind at Battersea Power Station. All finished the course, and since it was their first stab at the prize have the opportunity to enter again.
Sitting on the finish, in a scene unimaginable to architects of the Water Safety Code, Dwan was passed a wine glass and bottle of bubbly. It must be reported that the cork remained in place as he sculled away to disembark. Now he plans to race at Henley Town and faces a tailoring appointment in readiness for the heroic reception and prize-presentation in made-to-measure livery whose cost, were it to be disclosed, would turn faces of Savile Row's finest practitioners also scarlet: but with envy.