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Fascinating story of a determined lady’s rescue of a remarkable vessel told to ROSC members

Margaret Haines

1 May 2024

‘The Ship, the Lady and the Lake’ was not the most obvious title for a ROSC talk but Meriel Larken’s presentation of the extraordinary life and rescue of a Victorian steamship based on Lake Titicaca in Peru proved to be one of the club’s most fascinating talks.

This was the story of a determined lady’s rescue of a remarkable vessel. Meriel overcame every obstacle - financial, bureaucratic, human, technical and physical - to save the neglected Yavari which had been specially built in the late 19th century for service in the Peruvian Navy on Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, and had been transported there in pieces over the Andes. The story began on the banks of the River Lea in East London where the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company built the ship (Interestedly the shipwrights kicked a ball around at lunchtime, challenged other shipyards to games and gave birth to a football club, West Ham United - ‘The Hammers’, named after the shipwrights who hammered in the rivets!)


Meriel told us of Yavari’s role in the Peruvian Navy, of finding the abandoned wreck of the vessel in the 1980’s, and of the long road of fundraising and restoration.  We also learned about the Peruvians who worked with her and continued to work on and maintain the ship, and of Peruvian life.  We heard about the long expedition with llamas and mules across the Andes, undertaken by Meriel and others, to trace the transportation route of every part of the dismantled Yavari to the lake – what a feat! 


Meriel’s account of the restoration was fascinating, as was the ongoing story of the ship’s post-restoration tourism role (trips round the lake, bed and breakfast for visitors and not least the base for an expedition of inner-city boys from East London). Sadly maintaining Yavari as a going concern is not easy and her future is uncertain but there is hope that she will thrive against the odds.


This was a fascinating and varied talk, extremely well presented – and, if you are interested, a book of the same name is an excellent read.

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