James Berry, 23, from Whitstable in Kent, one of the youngest captains on the Thames, is focussed on two things this spring: returning to work on the river, post lockdown, and winning the historic Doggett’s Coat & Badge Wager on 25 June, re-arranged from last year due to the pandemic.
“I remember watching the 2012 Thames Barge Driving Race, from Greenwich to Westminster with my Dad, brother and other family members. I loved the atmosphere of the water and the festivities of the day.
“I started rowing in November 2018, joining Kings School Rowing Club in Canterbury. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. And competing in Doggett’s was always part of the plan too. My brother competed back in 2016 and came a respectable third, after only a year of sculling. I came second in 2019. The wind made it an exceptionally tough race for all of us. I am determined to go one better this year.
“The river at Putney and above is particularly special to me, I’ve spent lots of time up there rowing and racing. It just feels so calm and serene, compared to the hustle and bustle of central London. I prefer a relaxed pace of life.
“Once you have won Doggett’s, you can’t compete again, but rowing is now part of my life. In one capacity or another, I will compete at Henley Royal Regatta one day.”
A career afloat
“When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be involved with a trade. I never knew I wanted to work on the river until I was much older.
“I joined Thames Clippers in 2013, starting at the rank of a deck customer service assistant. Currently, I am a high-speed master.
“The training has been very comprehensive, equipping me with the knowledge I need to perform my role. It covers all aspects vessel management and working in the river. The most intensive element so far was my high-speed training. The stakes definitely feel a lot higher when you’re going for that endorsement.
“My advice to anyone looking at starting a career on the Thames, is take your time. Learn everything you can, from as many people as you can. Never be afraid to ask questions.”
“I was furloughed due to the pandemic. It’s been very surreal. Like many others, I’ve never really stopped like this before.
“I bought a rowing machine, so I could keep training during lockdown, I worked have hard to keep myself fit and active
“I’m excited to get back to work and have some routine again.
“Most of all, I just want to interact with my friends and family properly again. I can’t wait for social distancing and 2020 to be a bad memory.”
Training to win
“Doggett’s is important to me.
“It has been hard, trying to keep motivated, when we couldn’t get out on the water.
“It’s taught me a lot about myself and about pushing for something you’re desperate for. I’ve never truly put my mind to something like this or worked as hard before.
“Ahead of the 2019 race, I was confident in my ability and my fitness. But it just wasn’t enough. You have to take the positives out of every situation. Looking back now, I’m glad I didn’t win. I wouldn’t be the sculler I am today if I had. I was incredibly naive in the past. I have matured and my technical ability has improved.
“The most challenging part last time was the start and dealing with my nerves. But I was very fresh and had never really faced any adversity then.
“I’ve had lots of good advice from previous competitors, I will be forever grateful for everyone’s time and effort, helping me with my rowing career.
“As well as on my days off, I’m training before my late shifts and after my early shifts.
“The only way will be able to repay my incredible coach Jonty Williamson is by winning on 25 June.”
Describe the Thames in three words: I don’t think three words does it enough justice.
What’s top of your bucket list? Watching the Northern Lights, from a glass igloo in Norway.
Hobbies? I am 100 per cent focussed on Doggett’s, so training takes up most of my time, right now, but I also enjoy searching Spotify playlists for up-and-coming artists. During lockdown, like many others, I also got into walking.
People of the Thames
Telling the stories of the river.