Bogart, Hepburn, the African Queen — and You

Photo by Tom Adkinson

Photo by Tom Adkinson

KEY LARGO, Fla. — The African Queen, the actual boat from the movie of the same name, has been resurrected.

The putt-putt-puttering steam-powered boat has led an amazing life in its 100+ years (it was built in England in 1912), and now you can ride on it just as Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn did in the 1951 movie.

Well, not exactly as Bogart and Hepburn did. Your destination for the experience is Key Largo, Fla., in the Florida Keys, not the Congo. The tale of the African Queen has almost as many twists and turns as did John Huston’s classic movie.

It was built in England and originally named the Livingstone. It was a cargo vessel for the British East India Railways Company and toiled for decades until Huston made it a star in 1951. Bogart won his only Academy Award for playing its captain, Charlie Allnut.

A “career change” in the 1960s brought the African Queen to San Francisco as a tour boat, but that was unsuccessful, and it changed hands several times.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

In 1982, a Bogart fan in Florida named Jim Hendricks Sr. bought and restored it. Homeport was Key Largo, and Hendricks toured it around the world. It even was in the flotilla that marked the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk, but it slid into disrepair again after Hendricks died.

Enter Suzanne and Lance Holmquist, who already owned big sailing vessels. They negotiated to repair the African Queen and put it back in operation.

It operates again in Key Largo. It is moored in a canal next to a Holiday Inn at Mile Marker 100 on the Overseas Highway. It docks in the company of dive boats and other excursion boats with names such as the Pirates Choice (also a Holmquist vessel), Blue Water Diver, the Key Largo Princess II, Reef Runner and Tropical Adventure.

The restoration was substantial on a functional level (15 percent of the steel in the hull, a new boiler and a paint job on the mahogany decks), but the African Queen of today looks like the African Queen of the movie. In fact, Lance Holmquist says he spattered it with mud for that camera-ready look.

There are 90-minutes trips on a Key Largo canal, onto open Atlantic water and into another canal. There’s also an evening cruise that includes a stop at the Pilot House Restaurant for a three-course dinner and a chance to inspect memorabilia from the African Queen movie.

African Queen cruises are your chance for a personal connection to a movie that is preserved in the Library of Congress as part of the National Film Registry of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films.”

Use these websites to plan a visit for the African Queen and the Florida Keys: AfricanQueenFlKeys.com and fla-keys.com.

Photo by Tom Adkinson

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