After a couple of false starts, summer made its official debut on Saturday morning when a text arrived from a friend saying that if I walked out onto the balcony and squinted, I might see her husband water-skiing on the still waters of Lake Zürich. She signed off with, “Just let me know when you’re ready and we’ll pick you up.”
As I’ve fully subscribed to the concept that the only thing better than owning a boat is having a friend with one (or, many friends with many boats that call on multiple ports of personal convenience), I’ve learned to keep a go-tote on round-the-block standby for just such messages. Though not unlike the small duffel I used to keep under my desk in my correspondent days, this bag has a much more leisure-centric theme and wouldn’t be of too much use if I was summoned to the Sahel. Inside, there’s a towel, two bathing suits, shorts, a T-shirt, a tunic top from Liwan in Beirut (the best at-sea, on-deck garment ever invented), footwear and a hat or two from my favourite shop in Vienna. With a bit of gentle scrambling we were out the door in five minutes and, after a short stroll and a little zig-zag, we spotted our friends at the end of the jetty all prepped to cast off.
At this time of year, Zürich transforms itself into a more undressed, slightly bronzed (it’s the start of June, so there’s time for deeper tans) and more Italian version of its Germanic self. The pandemic has allowed restaurants to occupy more of the pavement and stretch out into streets, lanes and courtyards. Convertibles have come out of hibernation and bike traffic is way up. On weekday mornings and after work it’s standard to see cyclists with damp hair, a towel flapping around their necks and a big grin as they make their way to the office or gently pedal home.
It’s also the time of year when two makes of fine watercraft are lowered into the water and Lake Zürich starts to feel a bit Como, mixed with splashes of Amalfi and Portofino. In this part of the world, serious seafarers would never be seen at the wheel of a Riva or even a super-sustainable and rather handsome electric Frauscher. From a distance Zürich’s classic motorboats might look and even sound like a post-war Riva or Chris-Craft, but look a bit closer and the chrome brand plaque will either read “Boesch” in a chic scrawl or “Pedrazzini” in a more blocky, joined-up font.
Lake Zürich doesn’t instantly strike you as the home of boatbuilders and Switzerland is certainly not a nation of mariners, but let’s not forget that this landlocked country recently procured some new “naval” vessels from Finland to guard its southern and northern flanks from the menacing Italians, French, Germans and Austrians. The federal government also part-funds an oceangoing fleet of freighters to ensure that the country’s supply chains can remain intact in times of conflict. (A very nice gig I’m told, if you happen to be one of the shipping families that has one of the contracts.)
Out on the lake we zipped across to the Hotel Alex for coffees and juice, and after that made our way toward Badi Enge where the skipper cut the engine and lowered the ladder, and we dove into the clear, refreshingly crisp 18C water. With the city as the backdrop on one side and the snowy Alps waking up in the very light haze, it was about as perfect a Saturday morning as I can remember: good friends, sleek transport and a lake that’s so clean it’s supposed to be drinkable. Back on board I stretched out, looked skyward and took in a scene that used to be taken for granted: aircraft, at various flight levels, criss-crossing over Swiss airspace. A year ago the skies were empty but this Saturday morning it felt like the world was back on the move and summer had shifted into high gear. Enjoy it.