Ice in his Veins
The stereotypical ME major is a thrill-seeking motorhead with a yen for Formula cars. John Davenport, who earned his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Tech in 1992, has turned toward a quieter, but no less hair-raising, sport.
Armed with expertise in building carbon-epoxy parts—a holdover from his time studying under ME professor Mohan Rao—Davenport crafted a competition iceboat at home, in his garage.
"Ice boating has been around a couple hundred years," says Davenport, a member of Tech's Engineering Advisory Board and a process development engineer with General Electric's Healthcare division, in Milwaukee. "Before planes, iceboats were the fastest vehicles on the planet; they would race trains."
From the vantage point of the sailor, whose head may be rushing by the ice at about 65 mph during a race, an iceboat probably still feels like the fastest vehicle this side of a Saturn rocket. Davenport has spent plenty of time in that position, up to the point of placing third in the 2002 North American championships. He was once tapped as technical expert by Marlboro, which filmed him sailing in Tierra del Fuego for a TV commercial for the Argentine market featuring extreme sports.
Iceboats, he notes, have no brakes. "That forces a different way of thinking about collision avoidance."
Davenport now spends less time risking his neck and more pursuing his career. But he still takes the iceboat out of his garage periodically and goes flying across frozen lakes. When it comes to "hard water" sailing, he says, "I've got the hook in my mouth."