The Peking is a steel-hulled four-masted barque. A so-called Flying P-Liner of the German company F. Laeisz, it was one of the last generation of windjammers used in the nitrate trade and wheat trade around the often treacherousCape Horn.
Ekeing out meager existence on routes difficult to serve by steam ships that required vast amounts of coal, these tall ships and the sailors sailing them were the last of their breed. Sailed in the traditional way with few labor saving devices or safety features, her sailors worked four hours on and four hours off 24 hours a day for the entire length of the voyage, sometime for more than a hundred days in a row.
Made famous by the sail training pioneer Irving Johnson, his footage filmed on board during a passage around Cape Horn in 1929 shocked experienced Cape Horn veterans and landsmen alike at the extreme conditions Pekingexperienced.
She was in Valparaiso at the outbreak of World War I, and was awarded to Italy as war reparations. She was sold back to the original owners, the Laeisz brothers in 1923, and continued in the nitrate trade until traffic through thePanama Canal proved quicker and more economical.
In 1932, she was sold for £6,250 to Shaftesbury Homes. She was first towed to Greenhithe, renamed Arethusa II and moored alongside the existing Arethusa I. In July 1933, she was moved to her new permanent mooring off Upnor on the River Medway,where she worked as a children's home and training school. She was officially "opened" by HRH Prince George on 25 July 1933. During World War II she served in the Royal Navy as HMS Pekin.
The Peking was retired in 1975 and sold to Jack Aron, for the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City, where she is still moored as of 2013. However, at this time the Seaport does not see the Peking as part of their long-term operational plans. A 2012 offer to return the ship to its port of building, Hamburg, as a gift from the city of New York was contingent upon raising an endowment in Germany to ensure the preservation of the vessel, and was not successful on that basis. No other entity has offered to take over the ship on an endowed basis. As the ship is as of 2013 in need of extensive repairs, the Seaport is unwilling to turn it over to a purchaser on any other basis, and its future is uncertain.