[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ake Geneva hosts the world’s most important and most elegant side-wheel paddle. All the boats were built by Sulzer Brothers between 1904 and 1927. In terms of passenger capacity, this is also the largest Belle Epoque fleet in the world. On June 17th 2011 it was classified as part of the Swiss Historical Heritage of great significance to the nation. All repairs and renovations respect the details of the original ships.
Once a year in spring, the public gets a unique opportunity to see the entire fleet together. The company in charge of public transport on Lake Geneva is the Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN), that organizes this event, which is called the “Parade Navale”. A port of one of the lakeshore towns around Lake Geneva is selected each year. This year which is the 140th anniversary of the CGN, all these paddle steamships will come together for another parade on Sunday May 19, 2013 in front of the port of Nyon near Geneva.
Last year on May, 20th 2012, over 8’000 steamboat lovers, families and tourists came to the quays of Morges, a charming town located on the shores between Lausanne and Geneva. The spectators came to marvel at an aquatic ballet performed by the five still active steamboats of the lake:
- « Montreux » (1904)
- « Savoie » (1914)
- « Simplon » (1920)
- « Rhône » (1927)
- « La Suisse » (1910)
These boats carried 1’600 happy passengers total who enjoyed the naval dancing parade from onboard a paddle steamer right in the heart of the event on Lake Geneva. Other spectators watched from the shores for an overview and the return of the ships for the grand finale.
For over an hour, the boats first performed their amazing mechanical ballet far away from the shores with various coordinated movements one after the other before reducing speed just about 30 yards away from the public on land. At the end of the performance, the five boats aligned facing the quays, blowing their steam whistles all together for a long minute before releasing over 2’000 balloons; one color for each paddle steamer.
As a press photographer, I was given the opportunity to attend this spectacular naval ballet from a very small motor boat following alongside these magnificent ships. It not only offered the advantage of seeing the dancing movements from water level but also to shoot photographs from impressive angles up close as well as to capture shots with all five steamships together.