Since December 2015, the Historic Boat Museum of Iquitos has had a highly significant addition to her armada: the second oldest gunboat in the world, B.A.P. America.
Built in Birkenhead, England in 1904, in order to serve in Peru’s Amazon flotilla, she measures 41 m (135 ft) in length and 6 m (20 ft) in width. She has a draught of 1.1 m (3.5 ft) and her two steam-powered engines could reach a top speed of 15 knots. There was space for a crew of 30.
The initial armament consisted of a 37 mm Armstrong gun mounted at each end of the vessel, supplemented by 48 rifles ... and 48 sabres!
She arrived in Iquitos, in May 1905, having sailed from England under her own power, and made her first journey as a Peruvian naval gunboat on 15th of February 1906. The America went on to serve in a number of Amazonian territorial conflicts, including the Leticia War with Colombia from 1932 - 1933; and against Ecuador, as late as 1981.
However, she is best known for her part in a decisive, three-day land battle with Colombia, near La Pedrera on the River Caqueta, a tributary of the Amazon, which ended a border dispute with a Peruvian victory, in 1911.
For this, the 204-ton America was declared a National Monument by the Peruvian Navy, and has been kept at the Clavero Naval Base in Iquitos, as a living museum, since 1984. Previously, though, it was only possible to visit her on 8th October, every year, on the anniversary of the Battle of Angamos, a key naval engagement, in 1879, during the ill-fated War of the Pacific, against Chile.
Now, though, through an agreement between the Peruvian Navy and FundAmazonia, the trustees of the Historic Boat Museum, it is possible to visit the America twice a day. To do so involves a launch ride from the Ayapua (permanently moored in front of Casa Morey Hotel), across Iquitos bay, to the naval base.
Once aboard the America, naval enthusiasts will find a vessel that has been largely restored to its 1911 state, with British engineering from the Edwardian era very much in evidence.
For more information on how to visit the B.A.P America, and other Iquitos attractions, please get in touch.