A beautiful day on a beautiful lake on a beautiful paddle steamer. Aboard the Diesel-electric paddler Italie, of 1908, approaching St Prex en route from Lausanne to Geneva.
At Geneva water runs out of the lake east to west through the harbour (left to right in the picture above) sometimes producing a very strong current when the water level is high. This is a handy tool for swinging the steamers at the Mont Blanc landing stage and is the standard method of approach for much of the season. But when the lake is low, as it is in the spring, and when the sluices are shut in, there can be little or no current on the landing stage or even a little back eddy running the wrong way along the pier. This circumstance, coupled with a wind blowing the ship off, can make an approach very difficult and it is not unknown for the captains to have to back off and have a second go at getting alongside when the current and wind are like this. The picture above shows the Italie going astern in order to better position herself for another attempt at the pier. In the background is the Vevey of 1907 just returned from a lunch cruise and berthed alongside the static restaurant paddler Valais of 1913.
Italie alongside the Mont Blanc landing stage at Geneva with the fresh breeze making the colourful flags flutter nicely. Although Italie and Vevey each carry an engineer, they both have unmanned engine rooms with bridge control of the machinery by the captain leaving the engineer free to double as a rope handler and ticket inspector. On the left of the picture is the stern of the recently restored paddle steamer Montreux of 1904 in Geneva for a private charter.
The last paddle steamer to be built for service on the lake is the Rhone of 1927 seen here approaching Lausanne Ouchy at about 8pm after a return trip to Evian at the end of a day which included the 12.30pm afternoon run from Lausanne to St Gingolph and back. These sailings had been rostered for the giant modern screw driven vessel Lausanne but she had broken down so a paddle steamer came to the rescue!
Like the engine on the Lake Lucerne paddle steamer Stadt Luzern, the Rhone’s uniflow engine built by Sulzer represents pretty much the final development of paddle steamer machinery with an enclosed crank shaft and connecting rods. These casings have been replaced by perspex on the Lucerne steamer to give a better view of all going on inside but not, so far, on the Rhone. Here’s hoping!
The dining saloon of the Rhone.
Off to the shipyard at the end of the day. During July and August 2003 Rhone is currently scheduled to partner the paddle steamer Savoie of 1914 running the alternating two day roster along the full length of the lake, one day starting from Lausanne and the next from Geneva.
If you are planning a visit to the Lake Geneva region in late May you should be aware that some schedules are likely to be disrupted by the G8 summit in Evian which is throwing much in the area into chaos. The Lausanne to Evian ferry service will be closed to all not involved in the summit and the frontier workers who need to use this will be catered for with a most unusual connection between Tourronde just east of Evian to Pully just east of Ouchy instead. When I left Lausanne last week Le Matin, the local newspaper paper, had as a headline “Lausanne under siege during G8 summit”!
If you get a chance to visit Lake Geneva then I would heartily recommend a trip on the steamers. Larger than any other European lake, there is a lovely atmosphere on the water and, with seven operational paddle steamers, plus two statically preserved and one laid up, there are few better concentrations of paddle steamers anywhere. It is also easy to get to from England with the hour and a half flights on Easyjet to Geneva sometimes priced at less than £50 return, particularly mid week. And, for those on a limited budget, with an early morning flight out getting to Geneva by 9.15am and an evening flight back, there is the option of a same day return for a beautiful day on a beautiful lake on a beautiful paddle steamer! Happy sailing!