No, here Peking gets escorted up the East River a mere 14 months ago, almost like a human nonagenarian, for a 97-year-old she was when my partner Elizabeth caught this portentous shot. Portentious, maybe? Even the tug name–McAllister Responder–sounds like an anonymous institutional care-giver, as in “Hi Peking. I’m on-call as your responder today. I hope you’re having a lovely day.” No offense meant to Responder (ex-Empire State, ex-Exxon Empire State); it’s just that here the name adds to the pathos of this scene. But despite the leaden water, the monochromatic palette imposed by the threatening, dark sky, a few spears of hope zapped through, for at this point, some thought she might receive more than a make-over; she might be fully rebuilt with new structure as well as cosmetics, we hoped.
Alas, 14 months later, to this passerby, Peking still languishes in a form of ship purgatory.
Recently Joe sent me these fotos, taken at sea by his uncle Frank sometime in 1929-30. It’s Peking mid-Atlantic: a vital cog in an economic machine, working sail that sprinted the seas less-trafficked today between Northern Europe and Southwestern South America, a “fast” one-way passage taking over two months. Northbound to European industries, she carried nitrates, a vital raw material in producing fertilizer and explosives.
A few years after these fotos, Peking came off the high seas into the confines of the River Medway to Shaftesbury Homes–aka the National Refuges for Destitute Children– and re-named Arethusa, appropriate maybe, since the original Arethusa was a shape-shifting nereid who transformed herself into a stream to avoid the advances of a suitor more powerful than she. By the way, Shaftesbury Homes still exists, still performs a variation on its function to provide a practical education for young people otherwise destined to a purgatorial life of poverty.
Here, 80 years ago, she still breathed vigor, flexed steel sinews, a titan of merchant sail as expeditious as steam power. On that day 14 months ago, I put my ear to her deck, and for a few seconds I thought I heard raspy breaths, felt a flutter that could have become a pulse, but
I now suspect I was mistaken. Can I, might the armies of willing hands perform CPR on Peking and coax some vitality back? Might transfusions help?
A hero of mine, Joseph Conrad wrote these lines in “The End of the Tether,” Chapter 6: “A laid-up steamer was a dead thing and no mistake; a sailing ship seems always ready to spring to life with the breath of the incorruptible heaven; but a steamer, thought Captain W, with her fires out, without the warm whiffs from below meeting you on her decks, without the hiss of steam, the clangs of iron in her breast–lies there as cold and still and pulseless as a corpse.”
Conrad might just have been wrong about sailing ships: the last lines on Peking need still be written, and I cringe to think what these words may tell. For now, we keep watch.
The artistic Bowsprite infuses the lines and colors of Peking with new energy here, as she starts a series on the moribund barque.
And if you try some Spanish, here’s naveganteglenan‘s post from Spain on Peking.
Many thanks to Joe for sharing these black-white family fotos.