Warship designer got his start in Arlington's cardboard boat regatta

Posted Friday, Apr. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When the River Legacy Foundation holds its 24th annual cardboard boat regatta at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor on Saturday, there just might be another Jonathan Applequist among the younger contestants.

He’s 34 now and living much closer to Arlington, Va., than to the city he lived in as an older child. But two decades before he became an assistant vice president for the naval engineering firm that designed the USS Fort Worth, he got his first taste of boat-building at a River Legacy regatta in the early 1990s.

The Last Minute, built in partnership with his brother, was in the style of a canoe. The boys were happy with its performance, Applequist recalled, considering that its name was fitting.

“We stayed up late the night before and finished it just in time,” he said. “We did OK and won a couple of heats. As I recall our boat was more in line with what we felt was the ethos of building a boat out of cardboard, but there were some older guys there who had more of the science behind their boat-building and beat us out in the last heat.”

That first regatta experience came not long after the family had moved to Arlington. But it wouldn’t be the last.

During his years at Martin High School, from which he graduated in 1995, he worked for a time at Macaroni Grill. The restaurant put together a boat crew, which built a giant noodle-themed gondola.

“It was a terrible design, but we had a lot more fun with it,” Applequist said. “The crew all dressed up and wore Italian chef hats. Of course, it folded in half and sank as soon as we got in the water.”

For that result, the crew won the highly coveted Titanic Award for most spectacular sinking.

Young manager

Applequist, whose parents still live in Arlington, went on to earn an engineering degree from Texas A&M in 1999. The next year he joined Arlington, Va.-based Gibbs & Cox, the firm that designed the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth for Lockheed Martin.

He was promoted to oversee the naval architecture department in 2003, becoming the youngest manager in the firm’s 81-year history. It’s safe to say that nowadays his ships are less likely to sink.

Littoral combat ships are the Navy’s next-generation vessels — speedy and lightweight, designed to operate in coastal waters against threats such as piracy and terrorism, with interchangeable modules for missions such as anti-submarine, mine clearing and surface warfare.

The Navy has 21 under contract, split between Lockheed and General Dynamics. The ships are meant to replace certain frigates, mine-countermeasure vessels and coastal mine hunters. The $480 million Fort Worth was Lockheed’s second LCS to be commissioned, an event that took place in Galveston in September to much fanfare from Fort Worth dignitaries and donors.

The Navy wants to deploy several of the ships to Southeast Asia.

Unique craft

“The LCS could become a significant part of the Navy’s future fleet, as they have plans to eventually build up to 55 of these ships,” Applequist said. “They would be one part, however, of the Navy’s full portfolio of assets for responding to the Navy’s mission of the future.

“What is really unique about LCS is the use of modular mission packages,” he said. “This gives the Navy great flexibility in how they use the ship, what capabilities they can have aboard the ship, and keeps the ship relevant 20 years from now because it can accommodate new vehicles and technology as they become available. Modularity is gaining traction as a key component of the future Navy and LCS is a big steppingstone towards that.”

Love of ship design

Applequist, who is married with two children, said some his his earliest memories are from working his father, who was a carpenter.

“Turning that into a love for ships and ship design evolved over time as a kid, listening to my grandfather’s stories about being in the Navy during World War II, later on racing sailboats at Texas A&M in the local power plant’s cooling lake and trying to figure out how I could make a career out of that,” he said.

The Fort Worth, he said, has “been a fun design to be involved with.”

It “is a great ship with an amazing crew,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see something you’ve worked on for so long come to life.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674 Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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