KEY LARGO, Florida Keys — The iconic original vessel from John Huston’s classic 1951 film “The African Queen,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, is plying Key Largo’s nearshore waters and canals again.
“To be able to ride on the African Queen and to be able to have it back in operation is absolutely tremendous,” said Stephen Bogart, the son film stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “You know, I’ve never really been on many movie sets, and this is like being on a movie set.”
The African Queen’s 100-year history began when it was built in 1912 at England’s Lytham shipbuilding yard. Originally named the Livingstone, it served the British East Africa Rail Company shuttling cargo, hunting parties and mercenaries on the Ruki River, situated in the northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo until 1968, according to Jim Hendricks Jr. Huston saw it and the vessel was temporarily pulled from service for the film.
In 1968, the boat was purchased and shipped via freighter to San Francisco but was stripped of almost all gear. A restaurant owner who had purchased it tried to run tourist trips using an outboard engine for propulsion. Around 1970, Hal Bailey found and purchased the craft for the price of the boatyard bill and put it into seasonal passenger operation on the Deschutes River in Oregon. Success prompted him to move it to Ocala, Fla., so he could make cruises available year-round, but plans fell apart.
In 1982, late attorney (and Bogart buff) Jim Hendricks, Sr., discovered the “African Queen” languishing in an Ocala, Fla., cow pasture and purchased the piece of movie history for a reported $65,000. An equal amount of funds was invested to get the boat operational and Hendricks began offering visitors rides in 1983 while the vessel was homeported at Key Largo’s Holiday Inn.
In 2001, the African Queen’s engine broke and was never fixed, yet it remained on display for curious visitors and film buffs to view.
A decade later, Captain Lance Holmquist and Suzanne Holmquist signed a long-term lease with Jim Hendricks’ son to restore and operate the vessel again. The Holmquists oversaw repairs and took pains to date it as it appeared in the film, replacing steel in the hull, replacing the boiler and oiling the black African mahogany to condition the wood.
“It was important to me because I love old movies and films, and just to see the amount of interest that this boat is still generating, even as dilapidated as she was, was incredible,” Suzanne Holmquist said. “I think restoring the African Queen has firmly sealed the tie and connection with the Bogart name to Key Largo.”
The African Queen offers daily 1.5-hour canal cruises and six-passenger dinner cruises on selected nights from the Holiday Inn Key Largo, mile marker 100 oceanside on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.
For tour times and costs see africanqueenflkeys.com.
The African Queen is not the only Bogart tie to Key Largo. The Caribbean Club, at mile marker 104 bayside, is located at a site where scenes from Bogart’s “Key Largo” were shot for the classic film noir that was released in 1948.
The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival traditionally is staged in Key Largo each October.
Key Largo visitor information: fla-keys.com/keylargo or 800-822-1088
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