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History of the Ship

Part I - Birth of the Yavari

In 1861, the Peruvian Government of Ramon Castilla, ordered two small cargo-passenger “gunboats” for Lake Titicaca. Already enjoying the wealth from the guano industry on the coast, the Government looked to exploit the natural resources of the southern highlands or altiplano region around Lake Titicaca.

Here lay the potential for trading Peruvian copper,

silver, minerals and wool and timber and riches of

the rainforest from Bolivia with manufactured

goods from Europe. Through the agency of

Anthony Gibbs & Sons, the Government

commissioned the JAMES WATT FOUNDRY in

Birmingham, England (where steam was first

harnessed for industrial use) to build the ships

that would collect goods from around the lake.

Without a rail link to the lake at that time, all

cargo had to be carried up on mule back. Therefore,

the ships were built in kit form, with no piece

weighing more than 3 ½ cwts, the maximum carrying

capacity of a mule.


THE THAMES IRONWORKS AND SHIPBUILDING were sub-contracted to build the iron hulls of the YAVARI and the Yapura. The ironworks were also founders of Londn’s Premier League, West Ham United Football Club. Their nickname of “The Hammers” comes from their days of hammering rivets and is still used today.



On 15th October 1862, the “Mayola”, bearing the

two ships and eight British engineers from London,

having rounded the Horn, docked at Arica – a

Peruvian port before the War of the Pacific – and

discharged the packing cases and pieces of the

YAVARI and the Yapura. The Peruvian Navy then

faced the daunting task of getting 2,766 pieces

and two crankshafts transported to Lake Titicaca,

12,500 ft. (3,810ms) above sea level.

Part II - The Great Trek

From Arica to Tacna 186ft.(550 ms) above sea level, the packing cases travelled the 40 miles (64 kms.) on one of the oldest stretches of railway in South America. In Tacna the 2,766 pieces weighing a total of 210 tons were unpacked and arranged in order of how they should arrive at Puno on the Lake. Local muleteers and porters, who were to carry the crankshafts, competed for the work.


The route, though only 350 kms in length, would take

them moonscape of the driest desert in the world,

mountain passes higher than the highest European

peaks and the sub-zero windswept wastes of the

altiplano. Notwithstanding, the winner quoted a

delivery date of six months. Buoyed by this prospect,

the British engineers who were to help re-assemble the

ships, went on ahead to build a jetty, slipway and machine

shops in preparation.

Six months later, the contractor, hopelessly defeated by the task, was fired, leaving pieces of ship scattered between Tacna and Puno. Outside events seemed to conspire against the project as grumbling muleteers, an earthquake, a ‘peasants revolt’ and the threat of a second invasion of Peru by the Spanish, brought the expedition to a halt. Five years on it received fresh impetus. Requests were sent out for more muleteers and “1000 Indians” to help with the task and by 1st January 1869 enough pieces had arrived for the keel of the YAVARI to be laid.

Despite fatalities within the team, the British engineers and local workers painstakingly rebuilt the YAVARI, bit by bit. At 3pm on Christmas Day 1870 the First Lady of the Lake was launched. The amazing journey from the heart of Empire Britain to the spiritual heart of the Inca Empire was finally complete. The Yapura since renamed BAP Puno followed in 1873.


The YAVARI, then 100ft long was powered by a

60 horse power (HP) two cylinder steam engine which,

for want of more conventional fuel, was fired by dried

llama dung…. She was also equipped as a two-masted


Part III - Her Working Life

By 1890, the cost of the War of the Pacific and the construction of some of the world’s greatest railways had impoverished Peru. In lieu of a debt repayment, The Peruvian Corporation was formed as a British company to run the trains and Lake Steamers. The YAVARI continued her vital service providing transport for the region’s exports and as a link between lakeside communities.

Known as “la Peruvian”, the Corporation extended the hull of the YAVARI to increase cargo space and in 1914 replaced the steam engine with a Swedish BOLINDER 4 cylinder hot bulb semi-diesel developing 320 bhp at 225 rpm. The oldest and largest of its kind in the world, this engine is a collector’s piece and was recently restored with sponsorship from Volvo Peru S.A. and Atlas Copco S.A.

The YAVARI had undergone several changes by the time The Peruvian Corporation was nationalised in 1975. At that time she passed via the State Railways (ENAFER) to the Peruvian Navy, who, for lack of resources and preferring the Yapura, allowed her to lapse into disuse.



Part IV - Yavari Rediscovered

It was ten years on, in 1982, when, believing the YAVARI to have been built by Yarrows, the yard founded by her great grandfather, Alfred Yarrow, Meriel Larken, already a Peruphile, discovered the old iron Lady slowly dying in a corner of Puno port. Although, in fact, the YAVARI was not a Yarrow ship, the vessel's historic value and potential for attracting revenue to one of the most depressed regions of Peru were obvious. Larken commissioned a Lloyds Condition Survey which found that being in fresh water at high altitude, the iron hull was in excellent condition and it was deemed worthy of restoration. By 1987, The YAVARI Project (Registered Charity No.298904) and La Asociación Yavarí (non-profit making NGO) had been formed and on 17th February the YAVARI was bought from the Peruvian Navy.



At first work was slow due in part to Peru's political instability and economic decline but in 1990 a change of government brought with it a rapid turnaround in the country's fortunes. Since then we have been able to make steady progress on the YAVARI due entirely to the many friends, sponsors and volunteers she has attracted.

Today the YAVARI is open to the public daily. Free admission and guided tours. Donations on board are welcome!
For the enthusiast we love to start up the mighty 1914 Bolinder 4-cylinder hot bulb engine. The sight, sound and smell of a bygone era make this an unforgettable experience! Advance notice required.

See below for contact details on board ship.



Tel: (+51) 51 369329