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‘It’s a mess’: Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row feels Ida’s wrath

“Nothing we’ve ever seen before.” one rowing coach said of the water levels from Ida that overtook boathouses and sent coaching launches down river.

Temple men’s crew coach Brian Perkins faced a challenge Thursday afternoon just getting to the Schuylkill River to see what Ida had done to the East Park Canoe House.

“We parked at the top of Strawberry Hill, walked down,” Perkins said of his urgent mission.

» READ MORE: Live updates on Ida's aftermath in the Philly region

What did the Owls coaches find after Ida had flooded out the Schuylkill?

“It’s not pretty -- it’s a mess,” Perkins said over the phone as he finished surveying damage, which included their dock, now lost to the storm, and motorized launches used by the coaches, now far down river. “We had a picture of two of them, still tied together, upright, floating past 30th Street Station.”

A truck parked outside the boathouse, “the water was up to the windows. That’s fried.”

Ida had cut such a devastating path, Perkins had feared the worst.

“We probably lost two boats to water damage,” Perkins said.

Similar assessments were being done upriver, and down at Boathouse Row. At the neighboring Gillin Boathouse, home to the rowers from St. Joseph’s University and St. Joseph’s Prep, the dock also was gone.

“We’re in the flow [of the river]. Down at Boathouse Row, it’s outside the flow,” said St. Joseph’s women’s rowing coach Gerry Quinlan.

» READ MORE: How to help victims of Ida from Philly

That flow had caused some of their own motorized coaching launches to race the Temple launches downriver.

“Three or four are in the Delaware [River],” Quinlan said, relating how they had gotten word from the Coast Guard, at least one making it past the airport. “One is in Essington. A tugboat guy found one.”

Of how high the river had risen, the Hawks coach said, “Nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

Boathouse Row did not escape damage as Ida temporarily changed the contours of the Schuylkill.

» READ MORE: ‘It came too fast’: The record floodwaters from Ida’s remnants brought rescues, damage, terror, and grief

“You could literally row a single on Kelly Drive,” said La Salle College High coach Mike Brown.

At Fairmount, closest to the Art Museum, La Salle University coach Jeff Garbutt, who is in charge of the men’s and women’s programs, had just gotten in and saw his newly purchased racing shell floating around. It was too dark and the water still too high to assess if the boat was damaged.

“I’m really just trying to find some stuff,” Garbutt said over the phone as he walked around. “It’s all floating around … I found my launches, so that was good.”

(Friday’s La Salle update: “Couple of boats damaged. Repairable we believe but not unscathed. Electrical equippment found but unsure of viability yet.”)

The day before, Perkins, the Temple coach, had helped Garbutt, himself a former Temple rower, secure the La Salle boats since La Salle rowers weren’t allowed to leave campus because of Wednesday’s tornado warning.

“The rowing coaches are nothing if not resourceful,” Quinlan said.

Before this, the biggest problem for them had been a dredge project for three miles of the river above the Fairmount Dam that had started but then stopped before the work was done. Without removing sediment, the race course itself was in danger of being rendered obsolete. For years, Lane 6, the farthest out from Kelly Drive, had been a slow lane.

“It’s a good lane now,” Quinlan said, referring to the immediate aftereffects of Ida. “Plenty of water.”

Penn’s boathouse on the row didn’t have a roof, but that’s not because of Ida. There’s a year-long renovation project, which has Penn’s rowing teams housing their boats in a tent across the river off Martin Luther King Drive, close to the Columbia Railroad Bridge, just south of the race course finish line.

“We know the tent held up and the boats are there,” said Penn men’s lightweight coach Colin Farrell. “We don’t know the condition of them, though. We haven’t been able to get over there.”

When all damage can be fully assessed, the collective costs will be in the millions, the coaches said. Just that St. Joe’s dock is worth “probably half a million dollars,” Quinlan said.

“We think we’ve seen a piece of our dock laying somewhere,’’ said Temple senior associate athletic director Larry Dougherty. “We had just had the dock repaired from the last storm. It was finally repaired last week. Everything is insured, but it’s a significant cost there. We now have our teams off the river for a second straight fall. We don’t know when we can get back on the river.”

“We can’t just throw our kids in the boat from 12 feet up,” Perkins said.

History says, they’ll figure out a way to be out there quickly once the river calms down.

“We plan on practicing Tuesday,” Quinlan said. “We’ll figure it out.”

The bigger picture, thinking long term, has them thinking.

“My concern is that these 100-year storms seem to be happening with a lot of regularity,” Perkins said. “We have to fix it, and hedge it against the future. We have to figure out some way to not have it happen.”

As Perkins said those words, he looked out at a still-raging river.

“I’m watching something really big float down Lane 6,’’ Perkins said. “I don’t even know what it is. Could be an appliance.”