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BY YANNIC RACK
One of the Seaport’s most beloved ships is setting sail for good, and some Downtowners are worried the barque’s berthing space will soon walk the plank as well.
The financially troubled South Street Seaport Museum recently announced that the Peking, docked in Manhattan since 1974, would soon make its likely final voyage to Hamburg in Germany, where it was built more than a century ago.
But Michael Kramer, a member of the community group Save Our Seaport, fears the ship’s departure will mean its spot on the waterfront will be lost for good.
“We’re hoping that berth will continue to be reserved for historic ships, rather than giving it over to yet another party boat,” he said this week.
Kramer worries that once the museum’s other tall-mast sailing ship, the Wavertree, returns from a $13 million city-funded restoration in Staten Island, it will be docked in the Peking’s old berth and lose its own spot at Pier 15.
“The real question is, why are we being squeezed in terms of berthing space? This has been a deliberate decision by the city, without any public input,” he said, referring to the city’s failure to reserve more pier space for the museum.
Capt. Jonathan Boulware, the museum’s executive director, confirmed that the Wavertree will slip into the Peking’s berth at Pier 16, but said he couldn’t offer any details on the future of the museum’s so-called “Street of Ships” on South St.
“[That decision] is not with the museum. Pier 15 is not a space that we control currently,” he told Downtown Express. “At this point, there is certainly a need for vessel berthing, and I think there’s a broad recognition for that,” he said.
Once in Hamburg, the Peking will anchor a new waterfront museum in the German port city. The country’s government recently allocated 30 million eurosh for its restoration, but Boulware emphasized that the offer from the museum had been standing for four years.
Although the vessel will be gifted to Hamburg, its departure still means considerable savings for the museum, which was maintaining the costly ship while still struggling to repair damage wreaked by Hurricane Sandy.
“The idea of recreating the ‘Street of Ships’ is an important one, but what is clear is that two huge sailing ships are a crushing burden of maintenance,” Boulware said in a statement announcing the news.
Even if Pier 15 won’t permanently dock one of the museum’s ships in the future, Boulware still sees a great opportunity for visiting vessels to supplement the museum’s educational mission.
“It’s possible to have a very lively waterfront with lots of masts in view, but not necessarily having them all owned by the Seaport Museum,” he said.
Visitors can still enjoy the majestic barque until it sets sail for Hamburg in the spring. The Wavertree is expected to return to the Seaport in mid-2016, according to the museum.