Irving Johnson (Around the Horn) on the Peking: Quotes and thoughts

As sailors we watch this Irving Johnson film about rounding the horn ALL THE TIME! I can highly recommend watching it if you can get hold of it. Its a 40min silent film that documents the voyage of P-Liner “The Peking” from the North Sea to Chile via Cape Horn. The wrong way.

The Peking is a 4 masted Steel Barque built in 1911. The voyage takes place in 1929. Irving Johnson was aboard for the entire trip, shooting the footage. He later added the narration.

The sails are everything

The sails are everything

This type of footage is truly unique, as it takes place at a time in history where technology meant that for the first time they could shoot moving images but yet “The Peking” was one of the very last sailing cargo ships of its kind. A really precious nugget of sailing history.

I found his narration combined with the incredible footage, absolutely enthralling and so compelling I decided to go through it and blog all the best quotes (in my opinion.)

Please feel free to add any others, or your own thoughts on this incredible journey!

“The North Sea in the winter time is a horrible place”

“There’s something about these vessels that cause some kind of hypnotism, you do things you’d never dream of doing in your ordinary mind”

“Remember how cameras cut down the size of waves”

“She looks better coming into port than she did leaving”

(Attitude about discipline) “Now look, thats for nothing, now see you don’t something”

“Here we have 4 propellors, chewing along, cheing up the wake, going oike a bat. 4 propellors no! its simply the wind in the sails, the sails that we made with our own hands, and we put up there with our own hands, and we adjusted with our own hands. roaring long she is now, 12, 14, 15 16 kts. Tremendous. 8000tons bowling along” Our yacht deliveries aren’t on 8000 ton tall ships, but the feeling of being in control over all these tremendous forces is incredible.

“This is what we love, we created it, we feel like supermen, we made all this happen”

“Theres no polllution out here whatsoever”

“But you should see the safety regulations here on this ship, they’ve never heard the word. Safety.. Whats that.. Take care of yourself in every case, and you’ll be alright.”

(Talking of two fellows up on the top yard 170ft high) “neither one is fastened, why should you be! Pay attention, get a hold of something, it’d be silly to let go wouldnt it!”

safety regulations. they havent heard the word

safety regulations. they havent heard the word

“The sails are everything, they’re our connection”

“The sails they’re our connection with the elements”

“Now I’m am going down the stay from the top of the fore top mast to the end of the bowsprit, some 17 stories down. You’re not suppose to use your legs for gripping the stay, if you do you’ll wear out a new pair of dungarees in a day.”

17 stories up coming down the forestay

17 stories up coming down the forestay

“A fella came down the edge of sails so I gave it a try and another fella got pictures of me and uh, I found I could do it even though I had to hold my fingers straight and thumbs straight and pinched the canvas between the ends of my fingers and thumb. A most insecure feeling but it did work.”

Coming down the edge of a sail

Coming down the edge of a sail

“I wished for some A-number 1 first class storms off of Cape Horn and look what I get: for a week or ten days nothing more than a couple of mile an hour breeze; flat calm.”

“But finally it came! It had to eventually. And came up with a big blast and sent us scurrying to the sails. Here’s 40 men furling one sail; the foresail. And they’re not up there playing Tiddlywinks!”

“The two fellas just coming into the picture at the right here now, were washed overboard on the way home. That means two empty bunks. And nothing is said about it, it’s all very quiet.”

the two fellas on the right were washed overboard

the two fellas on the right were washed overboard

“You’re going to see the ocean down here looking like the bottom of Niagra Falls.”

“The water’s blowing horizontally now… just screaming. 350 lines just screaming like you’re torturing animals to death. The noise if fantastic.”

“This tremendous part of the open sea is shown, just look! It’s tortured! Tortured. Tortured just like the water coming over the Niagara Falls.”

Tortured, Tortured

Tortured, Tortured

“Look at this, the open ocean! The forces involved are fantastic! There’s no words that I can use in any language that will tell you what it’s like. If you’ve been there it’s the only way you’ll know because the forces are beyond anything you’ve ever experienced or thought was possible.”

“But oh, the chaffing and the wear and tear, not only on the ship but on the individual.”

“The third mate got up on the end of the yard, he couldn’t reach the strip of canvas so he hung down by one arm and one leg from the foot rope and just then a squall came and the ship rolled to windward. And that man’s entire body vibrated just like those sails. The whole body just flapped like that sail… And when he came down, nobody said one word to him, we all would have done it. Some kind of hypnotism makes us do those things. It’s just incredible. When you look at it later, it’s crazy! But they do it under the conditions.”

And that man flapped like a sail

And that man flapped like a sail

“They’re working for the ship, making her go, she needs you. And when there’s something like that going on, you would do the same too.”

Holding on!

Holding on!

“And there you have the ship, sailing in proudly. The vessel that we fought for, that went into danger for, that we got bashed up on and that caused such agony. Cold, wet, sleep in your wet clothes no other way to dry them, but that’s the vessel we fought for.”  This is how we treat every Yacht Delivery! If after reading all this, you still want to come and crew for us. Visit our yacht delivery crew page to sign up.

“But what a voyage! What I learned there that saved my life, times in the future. Watching every detail, making sure it’s right ahead of time, and that captain really is a magnificent example of a seagoing character.”

“There’s no tug in the port that could pull us up the harbour. The captain had to beat the ship up just as if it were a private yacht.”

“But why do they sign on for all this misery in some cases? They kind of forget about that, they think of the thrills. But mainly they think of the sailing along as the sun sets on the Trade Winds. It’s absolutely lovely, that’s Cape Horn as I saw it. Thank you.”

We got sails

We got sails

Hope you love the quotes from Irving Johnson. What a man. What a voyage.

Thanks for reading, from the guys at Thumbs Up Sailing Yacht Delivery




3 thoughts on “Irving Johnson (Around the Horn) on the Peking: Quotes and thoughts

  1. Pingback: To Cross The Waves Of Time.. | We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

    1. Matthew Chandoss Kotzé Post author

      Thanks for the comment! I have found so much inspiration from Irving Johnson’s words. Not just words though, the attitude with which he lived and sailed. I think he should be a role model, not only to sailors like myself. But even landlubbers. Strength of character. Trust in the people around him. Acceptance of what nature threw at him.


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