VIDEO: Historic ship will head home

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The steel-hulled, four-masted barque Peking, launched in 1911, was one of the last windjammers used in the nitrate and wheat trades around the often treacherous Cape Horn.

For decades it has towered over New York City’s South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. Now, after a 30 million-euro grant from the German government, the 320-foot ship is set to be shipped back across the Atlantic for its final port stop in Hamburg, where it was built.

The Peking’s greatest claim to fame may be as the subject of a documentary filmed by sail training innovator Irving Johnson during a passage around Cape Horn in 1929.

Take a look at some of that footage, which is still captivating today.

The Peking’s departure next spring will be a bittersweet one for the financially struggling South Street Seaport Museum, which serves to remind New York of its vital nautical history.

“Of course I will be sad to see her go,” Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the museum, told the New York Times. “I love this ship. But it is absolutely the best thing for the museum.”

The museum was dealt a dual financial blow, first by the 9/11 attacks, which decimated Manhattan tourism, and then by Hurricane Sandy, which flooded the museum, causing extensive destruction.

The Broadsheet said that sending the Peking to Germany would benefit the museum in two ways. It would relieve the museum of about $750,000 in annual ship maintenance costs and bring back a payment from the new owner. 

Boulware told Soundings that the museum has faced significant challenges, but its plans for Peking are “part of a robust and thoughtful plan” for moving forward.

The museum is near to completing a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Wavertree, the other tall-mast ship at the seaport. Boulware said that keeping Wavertree and letting Peking go is “a critical step in the museum’s having the right size and the right type of ship in its fleet.”

He said the museum does not have the resources to do the restoration work that Peking requires, but Hamburg does.

“It’s the right choice for the seaport museum and the right choice for Peking,” he said. “This is a victory for the effort to maintain our maritime heritage.”