If boats were just built for going to sea, the Aproximada would be an abject failure.
Grotesquely marooned in the woods of Mt Pickett on Orcas Island, like Noah’s Ark waiting for the biblical deluge, she is slowly reclaimed by nature without ever having tasted the water of the ocean for which it was conceived.
However, the process of creating this vessel that was meant to go “Furthur” went far beyond the drawing, lofting, planking, rigging and kitting out. It was a project that had a deeper meaning for its creator Theodore Samuel Applegate and the countless folks from all walks of life who lent a hand along the way.
Applegate, who preferred to be called App, stood only 5 foot 2 inches, but he was a Goliath when it came to dreaming up bold projects and tackling the challenges they brought about. Headstrong to the point of being stubborn with an almost militant distaste for the rampant inequality that has become a defining quality of post-capitalist societies, he moved to the woods of Orcas where he built his own Shangri La and a giant boat that was to become his getaway vehicle.
His plan was to sail around the world with a handful of trusted associates who subscribed to his vision and wanted to follow him to the final port of the voyage which was to be Cuba. App, a socialist at heart, considered it a bastion of resistance against American imperialism and the ideal place to live out his days.
With this in mind, he started building the Aproximada when he was in his early 60s. He knew the drill since he already had built a steel brigantine that was even bigger, in Lynchburg, Virginia in the 1960s. He had it trucked to Richmond for the launch, but first had to cut off the bow, because it was too big for the trailer and too high for phone and utility lines crossing the roads.
So App knew all the trials of building a boat in odd places and was not afraid to meet them head-on. Constructing one high up on a mountain didn’t seem that strange to him, because, you know, it cut out the commute and he didn’t have to worry about his tools getting stolen.
He worked on Aproximada diligently, day in day out, rain or shine, hot or cold, alone or with helpers until he was in his late 80s. But the day of the launch somehow never came. It proved too difficult and expensive to get an 85-foot boat that weighed more than 40 tons off that mountain. Tragic? Not for App. It became his personal stage and lectern. “If the boat didn’t take him out into the world, it brought the world to him”, explains one of his former associates.
The Aproximada was the cause that kept him going, providing work for his head and his hands. There was always one problem or another that had to be solved, both intellectually or logistically. But the boat also became a beacon of a small community, a magnet for people who came to help App with the myriad jobs and looked to the man for inspiration and encouragement. Maybe to indulge their escapist dreams, maybe to get a sense for adventure or simply to get lectured about politics.
“Building a boat on a mountain was a stupid idea”, chuckles Peter McCorison, a retired MIT researcher and a friend of Apps who helped with the design. “However, even though Aproximada never touched water, she was worth every minute and every drop of sweat.”
App Applegate died in 2013 at nearly 95 years of ag. His ashes are buried near his ship, but his spirit still lives on in the planks of Aproximada.
Written by Dieter Loibner
Photos by Kevin Light