About six miles from any viable boat launch, on the largest of the San Juan Islands, an 80-foot boat rests under the shade of the Pacific Northwest’s towering Douglas firs. The three-masted barkentine vessel, which is sea-worthy according to local sailors, has never moved from its spot on the side of Mount Picket, 400-feet above sea level.
App Applegate built the Aproximada by hand using lumber from the old-growth Douglas firs and money from his social security checks. Aproximada is a fitting name for the vessel, as it’s Spanish for “approximate.” In 2004, App told the Washington Post he planned to “set sail in April” though he was “not yet sure which April.” He admired Fidel Castro and wanted to take it to Cuba.
App bought the land on Orcas Island and moved there in the ‘70s, with every intention on never leaving the home he built (about 10 feet by 15 feet). He had already built and sailed one ship along the Eastern Seaboard. He wanted to live out his days drinking coffee over discussions on politics.
But, thanks to a modest lifestyle, his social security checks piled up, and his friends encouraged him to start a new boat. A shack on the island wasn’t remote enough for the retired professor, so he started building the boat as a way out in the late ‘80s.
App died in 2013, before getting to sail the ship to Cuba. But he did make a trip to the island in 2000. One of the many visitors who came to see the boat on the mountain and ended up staying to talk with App flew him over. The experience strengthened his already socialist political views, which he loved sharing with visitors.
The island has become a destination for West Coast tech millionaires, which is slowly changing the atmosphere. But one can still find App’s labor of love right where he left it.