A Tale of Two Ships: The Falls of Clyde and the Peking
When I had begun the Museum Ships Series on this blog, the goal was to discuss museum ships that had failed and the reasons for their failure. This post is decidedly much more positive, as it is going to discuss the recent success in the continued preservation of the historic ship Peking. For a time, the future of the museum ship Peking at the South Street Seaport Museum was uncertain but, now the vessel has a new, bright future. This future could become the very same for the ship that was the star of the very first iteration of the Museum Ships Series: the Falls of Clyde. As time passes the more certain the future of the Falls of Clyde becomes.
A Brief History of the Peking
The Peking was constructed in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany at the shipyards of Blohm & Voss for F. Laeisz. The Peking along with all sailing vessels constructed by Blohm & Voss was the very last generation of commercial sailing ships. As that is the case, many of the former F. Laeisz “Flying P Line” vessels remain preserved to this day, Peking, Passat, Pommern, and the former Padua, which still sails to this day as the Kruzenshtern. Other surviving Blohm & Voss vessels include the USCG Eagle and the Gorch Foch. Some lost vessels such as the former “Flying P” Pamir and the Pruessen may still be extant as submerged archaeological sites. The Peking is a four-masted barque, 377 feet in length sparred and 320 feet in length decked, it has a 45-foot beam, a 16-foot draft, and the tallest mast is 170 feet tall, the vessel is roughly 3,500 tons. The Peking has a riveted steel hull, similar to the Falls of Clyde which has a riveted iron hull.
The Peking was primarily used to carry wheat from Germany to Chile around Cape Horn and return with a cargo of nitrates. Nitrates were bird guano that was used as both fertilizer and explosives. During its career, Peking would make this voyage 34 times as it was the economical route to carry this cargo by sailing ship. As the Peking was a German vessel used to carry cargo that could later be used as explosives, the vessel was interned at Valparaiso, Chile at the outbreak of the First World War. The vessel was later awarded to Italy in 1920 as war reparations, though the Peking was eventually sold back to her original owners at F. Laeisz in 1923 where it continued sailing to Chile in the nitrate trade until its owners sold her in 1932. The Peking was sold to Shaftesbury Homes in the UK and renamed Arethusa II and was used as a floating school for orphaned boys to teach them in sail training for a future in either the Merchant Marine or the Royal Navy. The vessel was towed to its permanent berth at Upnor in Kent, England. At the outbreak of WWII until the end, the vessel was commissioned in the Royal Navy as the HMS Pekin, though; it’s unknown in what capacity she served. After the war, the vessel resumed its duties as Arethusa II, a floating school for boys until 1974. The Peking’s fate then became uncertain, and it was first threatened with scrapping until it caught the eye of Jack R. Aron, a former US Navy Lieutenant who purchased it and had it towed to the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City in 1975. The Peking was on display as a museum ship until 2017.
It was never fully understood why this purchase was made in the first place aside from conserving a ship that was going to be scrapped. The Peking never had any historical ties to New York and had never called there in the course of its career. The initial goal of the South Street Seaport was to create a “street of ships” and have many ships on display in order to recreate the South Street Seaport during the height of its time as a bustling seaport. Although Peking is a historic ship but, has no official ties to American history, the vessel was seemingly never nominated to the National Register of Historic Places nor was made into a National Historic Landmark unlike the Falls of Clyde but, that was because the Falls of Clyde was apart of US history in Hawaii (See Museum Ships I). Regardless, the Peking became part of the maritime cultural landscape of New York. The Peking was simply part of a collection of historic ships and perhaps the South Street Maritime Museum had bit off more than it could chew with six ships in its collection. In addition to the Peking, the museum also had the tall ship Wavetree acquired years prior in 1968. Unlike Peking, the Wavetree has historical ties to New York and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The Peking eventually fell into disrepair and then in 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit New York, flooding the streets around the museum and damaging both the Museum and the ships themselves. Much like the Falls of Clyde the cost of maintenance of the Peking eventually outpaced what the museum was capable of spending and that became the tipping point.
“I love this ship, but it is absolutely the best thing for the museum.” -Johnathan Boulware, director of the South Street Seaport Museum
The South Street Seaport Museum had an important decision to make; they could only keep one tall ship and the museum opted to restore the Wavetree and started searching for a new home for the Peking. The first choice was the Peking’s former homeport of Hamburg, Germany. At first, the German authorities were resistant to the idea but eventually, they accepted. A beautiful fact to come from this search is that the word “Scrap” never entered the vocabulary of the South Street Seaport in regards to the Peking aside from stating that it’s unthinkable. Returning it to Hamburg is ultimately in the best interest of the Peking. The vessel has historical ties to the port being that Hamburg was its homeport. Germany has planned a three-year-long, 26 Million-Euro restoration of the Peking with 94 Million Euros for a new museum built around the Peking on the Hamburg Waterfront to be opened to the public by the year 2020 at the Deutsche Hafen Museum. On July 20, 2017, the Peking left New York for its 10-day long final crossing via the heavy load carrier Combi III. Restoration and repairs on the Peking have commenced immediately at the drydock of PetersWerft. Mean, while the South Street Seaport has recently completed the $13 million restoration of the Wavetree in 2016.
“The Peking is an important witness to the maritime history of Hamburg, we will bring her back to her old glory.” Joachim Kaiser, Hamburg Maritim Foundation
What This Means for the Falls of Clyde
The attempts taken by the preservation group Friends of Falls of Clyde to save the vessel from either being sunk or even worse, scrapped have fallen to the same option. The current goal is to get another heavy lift ship to transport the Falls of Clyde from Honolulu, Hawaii to Glasgow Scotland. For the same reason the Peking was returned to its historical home port of Hamburg, the Falls of Clyde will be returned to Port Glasgow to be put on display and once again saved from destruction. The issue is that the plan for moving the Peking was years in the making, the Friends of Falls of Clyde have significantly less time to plan a voyage that covers a lot more distance.
The Friends of Falls of Clyde is currently working on the bureaucracy to transfer ownership to authorities in Scotland who would have the space to display the vessel and the financial resources to finally restore the ship to its former glory. Every day this goal seems more and more a reality as the Falls of Clyde is already listed in the National Historic Ships UK registry. Much like the Peking, moving the Falls of Clyde is the best option possible for this grand historic ship. Although a distinct difference is the Falls of Clyde is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark and as far as this author can tell, the Peking was never added to either federal program as it was never apart of American History. Falls of Clyde was added first because of its service between California and Honolulu, and secondly, because of the sailing vessel being modified into an oil tanker, the Falls of Clyde is one of the few sailing oil tankers left. With the Falls of Clyde leaving the United States, it will be de-designated from both the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark. Even though the vessel is still impounded, the City of Honolulu authorities have been calling for the vessels removal and a move to Scotland would do just that. The Hawaii DOT has agreed to release the Falls of Clyde when the lift ship arrives. Although, sinking still isn’t that terrible of an option.
Historic Ships Leaving the United States
Even though moving these ships out of the United States is ultimately the best scenario for each ship for their continued preservation, this does represent a loss of physical history. In the case of the Falls of Clyde, an actual part of United States history. Although the Peking has no direct ties to U.S. History, it had become part of the landscape of New York in the 40 years it had spent in New York Harbor and most people were sad to see her go. We are losing history that we should be caretakers for and therefore lose access to them and that is unfortunate. Both of these vessels having similar uses as long-range sailing cargo ships are apart of global maritime history.
Sources & Resources
Boulware, Johnathan. A New Life For Peking. South Street Seaport Museum
Fanrouge, Gabrielle. Fabled Ship Peking Leaving NYC After 40 Years. New York Post.
Friends of Falls of Clyde. Ship’s Log.
gCaptain. Shunned By Her Hometown, Historic Ship May Be Scrapped.
Hawaii News Now. Embattled Ship “Falls of Clyde” One Step Closer To Returning Home To Scotland.
Hamburg News. Peking Arrives Home.
Ilnytzky, Ula. Tall Ship In NYC Returning to its Birthplace In Germany. The Morning Call.
JOC Staff. Combi Lift to Move Tall Ship From New York To Germany.
Johnson, Irving. The Peking Battles Cape Horn.
Maritime Journal Sailing Ship Veteran’s Three Year Restoration.
Maritime Hawaii. Of Heavy Lift and Four Masted Sailing Ships.
Meserve, Miles. This Iconic Ship Gifted To New York By A Trader Is About To Leave The City. Business Insider.
Morriss, Gregory One Last Ocean Crossing: The 1911 Barque Peking Returns to Germany. Sea History Magazine No. 159
National Historic Ships UK. Falls of Clyde.
Spilman, Rick. Combi-Dock III Sailing from New York Harbor Carrying Windjammer Peking. Old Salt Blog.
Spilman, Rick. Windjammer Peking Loaded on Combi Dock II (III) for Voyage Home.
Spilman, Rick. Update: Windjammer Peking Heading Home To Hamburg.
Spilman, Rick. Saying Goodbye to Peking – Windjammer Peking leaves South Street Seaport for the last time.
Trefethen, Sarah and Massarella, Linda. How this Departing South Street Seaport Gem Survived The Storm of the Century. New York Post.
Yamamoto, Susan. Guest Post: Falls of Clyde 2017 Update. Old Salt Blog.