Row with the Flow: IIHR Flume Supports Hawkeyes

November 11, 2019

by Margot Dick

The Sue Bechwith M.D. Boathouse

The P. Sue Bechwith, M.D. Boathouse sits on the bank of the Iowa River

The P. Sue Bechwith, M.D., Boathouse is celebrating 10 years since it opened its doors in September 2009. A highlight of the building is the IIHR-designed rowing tank, one of only a few on college campuses in the United States.

Assistant Coach Jeff Garbutt of the University of Iowa Women’s Rowing Team is pleased with the advantages the indoor tank provides. Between freezing temperatures, inclement weather, and flooding, the rowing team is often unable to practice on the Iowa River. The tank keeps the team training year-round to give them a leg-up on the competition come springtime.

“It’s the most valuable tool we have,” Garbutt says.

The tank also keeps injuries down and allows new team members to get up to speed during the off-season.

IIHR is proud of the work done by the engineering team to help design and create the rowing tank 10 years ago. During the early stages of development for the new building, the UI athletics department contacted IIHR with a specific vision for a brand new, indoor rowing tank. IIHR’s team got to work performing theoretical calculations. They turned those calculations into a 1:4 scale model built in-house by talented IIHR staff designed to test and optimize the tank.

Water rushes through the rowing tank

Each of the two basins seats eight rowers.

IIHR Director of Engineering Services Troy Lyons described the project as an indoor flume rather than simply a tank, with large pumps that accelerate the flow to the desired speed. The water travels in a large oval recessed in the floor, with one basin on each side that seat eight rowers apiece. The athletes sit in lines, with one basin acting as the port side of the boat and the other basin acting as starboard.

“Through modeling, we were able to design a state-of-the-art rowing facility that vastly improved on other designs.” Lyons says, “The speed and characteristics of the flow are optimized for the best rowing experience and are unmatched anywhere else.”

Varsity rower Claire Rutherford has been using the rowing tank for five of its ten years since she joined the rowing team her junior year at Iowa City City High.

“I knew I wanted to row in college. I started looking through the recruiting process and decided Iowa was the best place. One of those reasons was the amazing facilities we have here—the new boathouse, including the new tank.”

Rutherford is one of nearly 40 varsity rowers at Iowa. The program as a whole boasts nearly 100 athletes. During the winter months, the team switches off between training in the tank and work on the ergometers (also known as rowing machines). Players agree that a workout on the ergometer just can’t compare to putting an oar in the water.

Contessa Harold was a first-year student when she walked onto the Iowa rowing team in 2016. Four years later, Harold says she doesn’t know what practice would be like without the tank.

“You’re itching to get out and row, and that’s the closest thing we can have. It’s just nice to be able to do that.” Harold says.