The beautiful paddle steamers (left to right) Schiller, Stadt Luzern, Unterwalden and Gallia slumber in their winter lay up in the shipyard at Lucerne on Sunday 30th December 2007. Their boilers are cold. The seats on deck are stacked and under cover. Three of the funnels are capped to keep out the winter rain and snow and the fourth, that on the Unterwalden, which can be lowered to get under the bridge en route to Alpnachstad, has disappeared into its cosy sheath in the deck for the winter.
Meanwhile the oldest paddle steamer on the lake, the Uri, dating from 1901, is in steam and loading for the 13.21 sailing from Lucerne along the whole length of the lake to Fluelen. She has been out and about a great deal this autumn and winter and has proved a real hit carrying large numbers of passengers. So busy is she on this day that the motor ship Fluelen, which you can see berthed alongside, has been drafted in to take the overspill.
Christmas would not be Christmas without a tree!
It is a cold day on deck and the ship looks a bit empty as she steams along the Umersee.
But she is not. There are between three and four hundred passengers aboard in the first and second class dining saloons enjoying the Christmas spirit, tucking into delicious meals and sampling the fine wine, beer and soft drinks.
On the port bridge wing Captain Kuno Stein brings the Uri alongside the tiny pier at Isleten-Isenthsal. On all the Swiss lakes the captains steer the ships in and out of the piers themselves with no additional helmsman in the wheelhouse. You can see the little wheel for the electric steering on the aft side of the control position and there is a rudder indicator and an electric engine room telegraph on the top.
Captain Stein joined the company in 1974 and has been a paddle steamer captain for many years. His right hand is on the jog switch for the wheelhouse electric steering. Ahead of him is the electric engine room telegraph, to his right the radar and, just out of view, is the latest addition to modern navigation techniques: a GPS chart plotter.
All the Swiss paddlers have engine rooms which are wonderfully maintained. But some engines, like those on the Uri, are just so spotless and gleam with such a highly polished shine that they just make you gasp in admiration. Can this really be a working engine and not a model in a glass case? Yes it can. And what a wonderful sight.
I can highly recommend a trip on the Lake Lucerne paddle steamers or indeed any other vessels in the fleet. They are wonderful ships, beautifully maintained and immaculately run. The scenery is sensational. And there are plenty of excellent meals to be had aboard to keep the inner man or woman topped up. Come on, make your New Year’s resolution right away! Put Lake Lucerne in your diary for a 2008 break right now!
For more details of sailings on Lake Lucerne click here.