Many PSPS members might well be surprised to see a paddle steamer flying through the air and being deposited on dry land. They might also be surprised that this vessel, stripped of its machinery almost forty years earlier and consigned to a life serving fondue and other Swiss cuisine to the citizens of a sleepy lakeside town would be back in public service just in time to celebrate her 102nd birthday.
The paddle steamer is Neuchâtel, named after the main resort on the lake of the same name in western Switzerland where she served from 1912 until 1969.
Bought in 2007 by enthusiasts who had kept their eye on her for many years, she was out of the water in 2010, completely refitted and ready for trials in late 2013. Approximately £8 million had been raised with around half coming from one generous private donor.
Finding engines for her was no problem. The enthusiasts had thought of that already. A suitable set from the Bavarian lake paddler Ludwig Fessler, whose machinery had been swapped for diesels in 1973, was ready and waiting, having been bought in a great act of faith two years prior to the purchase of the ship itself. Following a professional refurbishment they ran like a dream when she resumed public service in May 2014. Nobody, with the exception, perhaps, of sceptics and modernists, thought that her inaugural season would come to a sticky end as early as August 14th . Ironically, it was the brand new boiler which was responsible and to add insult to injury, the supplier concerned had gone into liquidation in the meantime!
The blip in Neuchâtel's fortunes was only temporary and now, four years on, she is once again the pride of the fleet sailing on Lake Neuchâtel and the linked lake of Morat. She remains owned by Trivapor, the organisation established by the enthusiasts, but is operated by the main local commercial shipping company as an integrated member of their fleet in a similar way that the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society's own PS Kingswear Castle now operates at Dartmouth.
Traditionalists were pleased to learn that in 2018, Neuchâtel was, once again, sailing with her original steam whistle which had miraculously appeared in the local dockyard. It replaced the whistle from PS Major Davel, dating from 1892, which had been on loan from the Lake Geneva Museum at Nyon.At 151 feet she is around two thirds of the length of this Society's own PS Waverley and can carry up to 300 passengers in a blend of modern and traditional ambience. Her engines are compound diagonal, built by Maffei in Munich in 1926, and give her a speed of up to 12 knots. Unlike paddle steamers on Switzerland's other lakes, she is noticeably squat in appearance. This is because she has to navigate a narrow channel with very low bridges in order to move between the two lakes. The nearby Lake Bienne is also linked to Lake Neuchâtel by a narrow channel and a three-lake tour is offered in conjunction with Lake Bienne's own shipping company, but PS Neuchâtel is not currently assigned to that service.
In 2018, she sails from her base at Neuchâtel from mid-May until late September, normally on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Unless otherwise advertised, she makes three short circuits of the northern part of the lake, commencing at 9:50, 15:40 and 18:00 and calling at Cudrefin and Portalban. In an early afternoon sailing at 12:05 she crosses to La Sauge and continues through the narrow channel into Lake Morat making various calls, including Sugiez where her restoration took place. On selected Saturdays and Sundays she undertakes a full day trip to Yverdon-les-Bains, leaving Neuchâtel at 9:15. She calls at numerous closely-spaced piers on the north shore as well as Estevayer on the south shore, arriving back at 17:45.
The following video uses footage of Neuchâtel as she was on 18th July this year.
Internet Links for Further Information and Pictures
- Basic vessel details and photographic coverage of the restoration (in English):
- Website of the commercial operator of services on Lakes Neuchatel and Morat (French and German options):
- Website of Neuchatel's owners (Trivapor) for more details about the vessel (French and German):
- Neuchâtel's timetable:
- Further pictures of the rebuild of Neuchâtel which are well worth viewing can be found online:
The text and information for this article has been supplied by PSPS Life Member Gordon Stewart.
Cover photography taken by Olivier Bachmann.