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The ship called Vigorous began its career as a Navy vessel at the end of the Cold War, working the North Atlantic Ocean and listening for signs of enemy submarines.

Later, it was re-christened the Bold and retrofitted for marine science. It was used by the Environmental Protection Agency for water-quality research in the Florida Keys.

Now, the 224-foot-long Bold is joining the fleet of Seattle Central Community College’s Maritime Academy. The towering ship with the blue hull will become a teaching vessel for merchant-marine training and oceanographic research, and will dock near the Ballard Bridge when it’s not out to sea.

Last week, college officials toured the ship, scrambling up and down steep ladders, ducking through low steel doorways and admiring its four mighty diesel engines and well-equipped bridge.

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The school “competed with other states across the country for the Bold — and we won,” said SCCC President Paul Killpatrick. “Most research vessels usually go to larger institutions.”

SCCC acquired the ship, valued at $7 million to $12 million, by proving to the federal General Services Administration that it would put the vessel to the highest and best purpose. The cost to the college? Just $5,000, said Carl Ellis, dean of the Maritime Academy.

Killpatrick said the college will use the ship to expand its merchant-mariner training program, whose graduates are in high demand.

The Maritime Academy also plans to partner with other institutions, such as the University of Washington, in oceanographic research missions.

Having the ship as part of the academy raises all kinds of possibilities, Killpatrick said.

Good pay for academy grads

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle played a key role in bringing the Bold here, and as he toured it last week he reminisced about his own career as a sailor.

McDermott, 76, said he worked as a “wiper,” or the most junior crew member of a ship, in the Great Lakes while he was in college in Illinois. In that era, a young man could just show up at a dock to get a job, McDermott said, and being a “college boy,” as the ship’s engineer immediately pegged him, was a strike against him.

Today, some kind of college training for merchant mariners is virtually a requirement. Big ships run with small crews today because they use sophisticated automated systems, Ellis said. And those systems require advanced training.

The jobs pay well; a graduate of the academy’s program can earn $60,000 in just six months, Ellis said.

The 40-year-old Maritime Academy graduates about 36 students a year, but with the Bold, and with a new building that will open in early 2015 at the academy’s Ballard location, the school hopes to have enough room to eventually expand to 200 students, and to offer more programs, Ellis said.

Killpatrick said college officials are also thinking about expanding to offer a four-year degree.

The Seattle Maritime Academy is one of only two such academies on the West Coast. The other is Cal Maritime, part of the California State University System in Vallejo, Calif.

The academy owns two other ships — the E.L. Bartlett, a ferry built for the Alaska Marine Highway system, and the T/V Maritime Instructor, a Coast Guard cutter. The Bold is both larger and newer than either of those vessels.

The Bold is a Washington native, commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1989 and built in Tacoma by the now-defunct Tacoma Boat Building Co.

A floating research lab

A room near its stern — now outfitted as a lab — once housed the Navy’s secretive submarine-surveillance equipment.

It was designed so that if the ship were ever boarded by an enemy, all of its top-secret documents could be whisked into a small side room and destroyed within 15 minutes.

It took the Bold four weeks to travel here from the Florida Keys on a 4,200-mile route that included a trip through the Panama Canal. It can store enough fuel and food to stay at sea for up to 90 days.

It has 37 sleeping berths and is equipped with a wet lab, a microbiology lab, refrigerators, freezers, computer, microscopes and lab benches.

Ellis said the Bold will spend most of its time at sea from May to September and will be docked at the Maritime Academy for the rest of the year.

It will give students a chance to learn about and practice running a diesel-electric propulsion system and a marine navigation system. And students will be able to participate in internships when the ship is chartered for research missions.

McDermott said he was pleased that the college was providing an opportunity for students to get jobs in the maritime industry.

“My hat is off to the people who found it (the ship) in surplus, and went for it,” he said.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter @katherinelong.

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