Storm clouds gather over the Lake Geneva paddler Helvetie berthed in the harbour at Lausanne. There was much optimism on the lake in 2001 with the re-introduction into service of the newly rebuilt Montreux (see July 2001 Picture of the Month here) complete with a new steam engine from Sulzer. This was a brave and exciting project and the CGN is to be much praised for their pioneering work in this direction.
Sadly this ran way over budget and plans to remove the Diesel electric propulsion from the Helevetie, Vevey and Italie and convert them all back to steam have now been shelved for the time being anyway. As a consequence and as an economy measure, Helvetie has been withdrawn from service and will not run in 2002 or 2003.
As if this is not bad enough, the CGN is currently considering taking the Vevey out of service during the summer as well. This means that, along with the little used Simplon, there may be three of the eight Lake Geneva paddlers laid up during the coming season, a very sad situation and a complete reversal of the high hopes of a year or so ago.
All is not gloom, however. Lovers of paddle steamers will doubtless be cheering in the streets, hauling up the flags and opening magnums of champagne at the news that, to help them out of their difficulties, the CGN may buy at least one of the beautiful, elegant and historic Iris catamarans from nearby Lake Neuchatel after the EXPO exhibition closes. Who would not prefer to be encapsulated in one of these ultra modern boxes as they hammer and pound their high speed way over the stormy seas of Lake Geneva giving passengers every opportunity to enjoy the flying spray being dashed against the plate glass windows, experience the wonderful onboard air conditioning and thrill to the delights of mal de mer?
Helvetie was completed by Sulzer in 1926 as a near sister to the Simplon of 1920 and was equipped with a novel steam engine of a new type using hydraulics to control the entry and exit of steam to and from the cylinders. Engines using a similar principle were subsequently installed in the Rhone on Lake Geneva and the Stadt Luzern on Lake Lucerne and represent pretty much the final development of paddle steamer machinery. Part of Helvetie’s original steam engine is on display in a museum at Nyon.
Helvetie in her first season of operation 1926.
Helvetie as reserve ship at Geneva in November 2001.
Helevtie was last withdrawn in 1974 and subsequently converted to Diesel electric propulsion returning to service in 1977. One may presume that this conversion was never totally successful as she has been little used in subsequent years and, since 1981, has been based at Geneva largely running summer evening dinner dance cruises only. From time to time she ventured onto longer rosters and on one occasion in the early summer of last year deputised for La Suisse on the circuit of the whole lake from Geneva to St Gingolph and back.
Helvetie withdrawn from service and laid up at Lausanne February 2002.