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.Hes 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 wouldnt 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 managerApplequist, 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 firms 81-year history. Its safe to say that nowadays his ships are less likely to sink.Littoral combat ships are the Navys 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 Lockheeds 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 craftThe LCS could become a significant part of the Navys 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 Navys full portfolio of assets for responding to the Navys 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 designApplequist, 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 grandfathers stories about being in the Navy during World War II, later on racing sailboats at Texas A&M in the local power plants 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. Its wonderful to see something youve 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