The South Street Seaport Museum has announced that the 1911 barque Peking will return to Hamburg, Germany, to serve as the centerpiece of that city’s new waterfront museum.
Launched at Hamburg’s Blohm & Voss shipyard, Peking was one of the famed Flying P line sailing for the Reederei F. Laeisz in the nitrate and wheat trade around Cape Horn. One of only four surviving ships of the Flying P fleet—the others are Kruzhenstern (ex-Padua), Pommern, and Passat—Peking was made famous by sailing legend Irving Johnson. In 1929 Johnson and his friend Charles Brodhead signed on as paying passengers aboard the barque, with the intention of soaking up the experience of sailing a tall ship, working with the crew as much as they could get away with it. The experience was captured both in Johnson’s book The Peking Battles Cape Horn, which can be found in the NMHS bookstore) and the film Around Cape Horn, available through Mystic Seaport.
Peking came to the South Street Seaport Museum in 1975, joining the Liverpool-built Wavertree of 1885, Ambrose, Pioneer and Lettie G. Howard. In recent years, however, South Street determined that financial realities would not support two such large ships, given the cost of maintaining them in good condition. Capt. Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the Seaport Museum, summed it up:
“South Street Seaport Museum has long worked to maintain a fleet of well-maintained, relevant historic ships at her East River piers. The idea of recreating the “Street of Ships” is an important one, but what is clear is that two huge sailing ships are a crushing burden of maintenance. Our 1885 ship Wavertree, currently the subject of a $13 million city-funded restoration project, is the right ship for the Seaport Museum and for New York. Wavertree called at New York. She is the type of ship that built New York. Peking has a similar relationship to Hamburg. With the return of Wavertree in the middle of 2016, there will again be a huge square-rigged sailing ship at South Street in outstanding condition. Peking will return to Hamburg, the city of her birth, and there be cared for in much the same way. This is good for the Seaport Museum and it’s good for Peking.”