ARLINGTON -- Long before the Navy launched the USS Fort Worth, a kid named Jonathon Applequist launched a homemade boat called "The Last Minute" at Arlington's annual cardboard boat regatta.
"Raced it, and won in the first heat," his mom, Barbara Applequist, beamed, looking at a photo of her son paddling the little boat.
Looking back on it now, Jonathon's parents can see a son already setting a course on a career.
"I think this is his earliest boating experience," said father Bruce Applequist, holding another old picture. It shows a little boy on a paddle boat, rigged with a sheet for a sail to make it go faster.
The desire to design and build seemed to be in Jonathon's genes.
"Here he's building with his dad an erector set," Barbara Applequist said. "I think he's two years old."
Fast forward 34 years, through Lego and erector sets, countless plastic models, Arlington Martin High and Texas A&M, and you arrive at an office at Gibbs & Cox, a naval architecture firm in Washington, D.C.
Jonathon Applequist is still designing ships, including the USS Fort Worth.
"My role in the project was lead naval architect," he said, sitting at his computer beneath the gaze of an Aggie bobblehead.
Applequist said the greatest challenge was helping to create a ship longer than a football field that can zoom like a jet ski, at well over 40 miles per hour.
"Certainly pretty regular for us to be putting 70- or 80-plus hours in a week," he said.
From 2004 to 2006, Applequist supervised a team who brought a new kind of vessel from computer screen to reality. Called littoral combat ships (LCS), they're designed to operate within a hundred miles of shore. Like giant transformer toys, they can quickly be changed for multiple missions, from anti-mine to anti-terrorist to pirate interdiction.
Applequist was on board when the first LCS went to full throttle in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
"We were getting lots of traffic over the bridge-to-bridge radio from other boats in the area, basically saying, 'What are you?' Because there's a ship this large, screaming along at 40 knots. They'd never seen anything like it before."
Jonathon Applequist couldn't stop smiling. He kicked back in a lawn chair on the flight deck and watched the water churn.
He'll be smiling again when the USS Fort Worth, the third LCS, is commissioned Saturday in Galveston. It will be an emotional day for his parents, too.
"I know I'll just cry and cry," his mom said. "It's just going to be a really, really proud day."