The beautiful Lake Geneva paddle steamer La Suisse is scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of this season for a major rebuild. Built by Sulzer Brothers of Winterthur almost one hundred years ago, she made her first voyage on the lake in May 1910. As one of the largest steamers in the fleet she was laid up in 1943 during the Second World War returning to service in 1948. In the winter of 1959/60 her two coal fired boilers were converted to burn oil and a decade later, in 1970/71, these were replaced with just one new oil fired boiler built by Siller and Jamart of Wuppertal.
Since then La Suisse has been a constant summer presence on the lake, most recently running the long day return trip from Geneva. Until a couple of years ago this encompassed the whole length of the lake right up to St Gingolph but this has now had to be shortened to turn at Vevey to comply with the latest Working Time Directive for crews. So there you are. You can’t have a trip from one end of Lake Geneva to the other and back again on the same ship in a day any more. A trip which ran perfectly satisfactorily for more than one hundred years is now, in the twenty first century, deemed to be unsafe on the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.
Although a large paddler with a length of 70m, La Suisse uses the traditional technique of berthing alongside the tiny piers with the expert crew members lassoing the piles with just two mooring ropes and the captain using the power of the main engine, where necessary, translated into the ropes to bring the ship alongside and to cant off.
Like all the Lake Geneva paddlers, La Suisse has much of the promenade deck enclosed to keep the passengers dry in inclement weather.
Below on the main deck forward is the second class bar.
Turning round and looking aft takes us down the alleyway past the engine.
And what a lovely compound reciprocating steam engine it is. Like pretty much all the European paddlers the control position is on the lower deck (visible in the picture above) with the large worm wheel altering the valve settings and for ahead and astern, with a lever for the steam injection into the high pressure cylinder, another for putting steam into the low pressure cylinder in case the engine gets stuck in manoeuvring and a third to control the discharge of water overboard from the condenser. Unlike sea going paddle steamers the condensate of most lake steamers is not re-cycled back into the boiler. The used water goes overboard and fresh lake water is sucked in to replace it.
Further aft on the main deck is the first class saloon pictured here in La Suisse’s early days. How many hundreds of thousands of the rich and the famous and the not so rich and the not famous at all have graced these seats over the years?
La Suisse is scheduled to return to service newly rejuvenated in 2009.
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.