Seattle Maritime Academy’s floating machine shop is an old vessel with new purpose

THE VULCAN, one of three floating machine shops built for the U.S. Army in the 1950s, still is filled with old tools that were used to repair Army patrol boats during the Vietnam War. The bulky barge has been permanently docked at the Seattle Maritime Academy campus near the Ballard Bridge since 2010, when the school acquired it and gave it a new life as a floating classroom.

Inside the 210-foot vessel, instructor Meredith Anderson is teaching her students how to take apart a sailboat diesel engine and identify what could be causing it to malfunction. Anderson, a friendly 30-year-old who also owns her own marine engineering services business, says that salty crystals inside the exhaust manifold are a telltale sign of saltwater mixing with engine coolant. A blown heat exchanger might need to be replaced.

The hands-on engineering lesson sounds all foreign to me, but the site where it’s taking place is something to behold inside and out.

A good spot to see (and sketch!) the Vulcan up close is the 14th Avenue Northwest boat ramp. What a familiar sight the vessel must be to all the Seattle Maritime Academy graduates now working the decks and engine rooms in state ferries, tugboats and other Seattle commercial ships.

This illustrated column was originally published in The Seattle Times on June 6, 2021.

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