West India Docks and the Peruvian Training Ship

Above: View looking east at the ‘BAP Unión’ moored in South Dock while on its short visit to London.

Every now and again London is visited by various ships from other countries. Some ships are sailing ships, some are warships and others are liners. During the week of 24 July 2017, a Peruvian training ship came to London and moored in South Dock – the most southerly of the old West India Docks. The sailing ship is one of the largest in the world but it is not quite what it appears to be. Called the ‘BAP Unión’, the ship is a new vessel, only being completed in 2015. It is a sailing ship but it has a steel hull and a powerful motor driving a single screw when necessary.

‘BAP Unión’ is a training ship of the Peruvian Navy built between 2012–15 by a shipyard in Lima, Peru. It is a four-masted, steel-hulled, class ‘A’ barque with a total length (including bowsprit) of 115 metres (379 feet). The beam is 13.50 metres (44 feet) and a draft of 6.50 metres (21 feet). The ship was named in honour of a Peruvian Corvette that took part in the first stage of the 1879–1883 War of the Pacific as part of a naval squadron under the command of Miguel Grau, a hero of the Peruvian Navy.

Above: View through the rigging of the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome).

Like other similar ships, ‘BAP Unión’ has been conceived not only for training purposes but also to be a sailing ambassador for its home country. It is certainly the largest sailing vessel in Latin America but whether it is the largest sailing vessel in the world is not certain. It would be true to say that it is one of the largest sailing vessels on the high seas.

Above: View looking west in South Dock at the ‘BAP Unión’ with its really tall masts.

Of the four masts, the tallest rises to 65 metres (213 feet). The vessel certainly has an impressive size which is in no way dwarfed by the large buildings surrounding it at Canary Wharf. The barque has 34 sails which have a total area of 3.400 square metres (36,597 square feet). There are 85 cadets under training – just part of the total crew of 250 men and women. Many of the crew are sailors but there are also cooks, barbers, doctors and laundry staff.

London is just one of many ports around the world that the ship is visiting during its six-month voyage. After visiting other ports in Europe, the vessel will return via the Panama Canal to the home country of Peru.

It is always good when sailing ships visit the West India Docks. They opened as two large docks in 1802 and in those days all the cargo vessels were sailing ships. South Dock (seen in the pictures above) was not added until the 1860s – on the original site of the City Canal which crossed the Isle of Dogs to the south of the West India Docks. Pictures of today’s sailing ships in the dock are a reminder of the days of sail and of the cargoes handled in those docks. Today large offices surround the docks where it is money that is imported and exported electronically, in the financial dealing rooms.


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