For a long time, Joachim Kaiser, board member of the Hamburg Maritime Foundation and an expert on historic ships, has been convinced: “This ship belongs to Hamburg.” Now that the German government has approved funds for the new German Port Museum or Deutsche Hafenmuseum (construction to begin in 2019, completion in 2021) in Hamburg, the way is clear for repatriating the PEKING to its home port. The EUR 120 million in funds approved by the government include EUR 26 million for returning and restoring the PEKING. The Hamburg Maritime Foundation is pivotal to the restoration effort.
Location still uncertain
The PEKING will be probably be brought by a dock ship from New York to Hamburg in the fourth quarter of 2016. The final decision on the site of the Deutsche Hafenmuseum and thus the PEKING’s berth has yet to be reached. The historic 50er Kaischuppen near the Hanshafen seems likely, but there is also talk of Altona or HafenCity. Hamburg will certainly gain another tourist magnet with the arriving ship.
34 sailings around Cape Horn
Commenting on the significance of the PEKING, Kaiser, who will lead the restoration project, said: “Square rigged tall ships like the PEKING are a climax of the centuries-old development of freight ships before World War I heralded in a new era. Built in 1911 by Blohm+Voss for the Hamburg-based F. Laeisz ship company, the PEKING took to the high seas on nitrate voyages between Europe and Chile. The PEKING rounded Cape Horn twice on each journey and there is evidence of 34 sailings. “The course towards the west was hair-raising and dangerous. But the PEKING and its sister vessels were built and equipped for exactly that purpose. And the ship’s crew was excellent and consisted of real Hamburg lads.”
Rickmer Rickmers instead of PEKING
The PEKING set sail on its last journey in 1932. Later, the ship served as a boarding school ship for cadets on the river Medway, south-east of London until 1974. Then, in need of a huge overhaul and out of service, the ship was offered for sale to the city of Hamburg for DM 350,000. The Windjammer für Hamburg association had just been founded and the sum was quickly reached through donation pledges. But an inspection in Cape Horn revealed that the hull was in a critical state of repair. So the present-day Rickmer Rickmers, a Portuguese training ship that was no longer in service, was purchased at the time. The South Street Seaport-Museum then obtained the PEKING, partially repaired her and brought the vessel to New York. In 1976, the spruced-up and rerigged four-masted barque took part in the 200th anniversary celebrations of the USA in Manhattan. And the stern boasted “PEKING – Hamburg“.
Enormous restoration need
In 2001, when the newly founded Hamburg Maritime Foundation voted Kaiser onto its executive board, he went to great efforts for the barque, which was still owned by the South Street Seaport-Museum. “At issue was whether the foundation should look after a ship that was still in a foreign country. I was all for the PEKING and the Lotsenschoner ELBE.” That vessel was built in 1883 at the H. C. Stülcken shipyard in Hamburg and was bought in 2002. However, another detailed inspection of the PEKING’s condition proved sobering.
“Square riggers like the PEKING were built for maximum loading and they have to have loads, even when there is no freight aboard. Otherwise it would literally have keeled over. When it was being turned into a boarding school ship, the ship’s hull had to be filled with concrete to steady her”, Kaiser explained. So the underwater body of the ship now has to be overhauled. But the choice of shipyard is not yet clear. Kaiser added: “There will be an invitation to tender like all other publicly-financed projects.” A two-year stay in a shipyard would make the PEKING a new, maritime, tourist draw for Hamburg in 2019.