June 2012:
Lake Geneva Paddler Helvetie

June 2012:
Lake Geneva Paddler Helvetie

Good news of sort from Lake Geneva. The Helvetie, which was withdrawn after the 2001 season and has since lain in a gradually deteriorating state in the harbour at Lausanne Ouchy, has been given a spring clean for a new, albeit temporary, role housing and displaying some of the exhibits from the Olympic Museum which is currently undergoing a major refurbishment.

A breakwater has been built for Helvetie in a new berth to the east of Ouchy and adjacent to the Olympic Museum. Let’s go aboard.

The first class dining has lost its tables and most of its chairs, although it still has the same carpet, and now houses display cabinets containing various bits and pieces of Olympic memorabilia.

The alleyways alongside the engine room are much as they were, looking forward here to the second class dining area towards the bow.

The paddle wheels have been given a lick of paint.

In one of the rooms on the port sponson forward, there is a mini paddle steamer museum with a model of Helvetie and the old ship’s wheel from the Italie.

The old second class dining area is now a cafe serving light refreshments and snacks.

Below that the lower forward saloon contains more Olympic exhibits.

The outside decks have been covered with a waterproof coating with the foredeck, now with an awning over it, providing an extension to the cafe.

The old anchors and hand cranked windlass are still in place.

Let’s go up onto the old first class upper deck.

Again all the old seats have been removed and there are more display cases with Olympic stuff.

Looking aft the outside deck here has received a similar waterproof coating to the foredeck and, on the ensign staff at the stern, Helvetie is flying the Olympic flag.

If you look closely you can just see the old engine controls sticking up on each bridge wing. Helvetie lost her steam engine in 1976 and spent the remainder of her operational career with Diesel electric propulsion for her paddle wheels.

So there we are: a new life for the Helvetie albeit a temporary one. And let us hope that when the refurbished Olympic Museum re-opens then a new use can be found for her. In the meantime, in this year of the London Olympics she is berthed, if not in London itself, then next to a poster of the Dome and River Thames. So the Helvetie is with the London Games at least in spirit if not in fact.

Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.

John Megoran

John Megoran