The iconic original vessel from John Huston’s classic 1951 film “The African Queen,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, is to soon to ply Key Largo’s nearshore waters again.
Registered as a national historic site, a major restoration costing about $70,000 is being finalized. Work includes repairing cosmetic as well as mechanical details, making the boat once again fit to carry passengers.
A Thursday, April 12, “re-launch” party is scheduled to feature Stephen Bogart, son of film star Humphrey Bogart, and is planned dockside at the Holiday Inn Key Largo, MM 100. Nostalgia seekers and film devotees are welcome to attend.
The first ride on the newly revealed African Queen with Stephen Bogart is to be auctioned off at the event, in addition to signed memorabilia plaques bearing original steel pieces of the century-old hull.
The African Queen’s 100-year history began when it was built in 1912 at England’s Lytham shipbuilding yard. Orginally 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 her tried to run tourist trips using an outboard engine for propulsion. Around 1970, Hal Bailey found and purchased her for the price of the boatyard bill and put her into passenger operation on the Deschutes River in Oregon seasonally. Success prompted him to move her 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 vessel 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.
Among the vessel’s highlights outside of the Florida Keys, Hendricks shipped the African Queen to England for the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday celebration and for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Dunkirk evacuation in the English Channel.
In 2001, the African Queen’s engine broke, was never fixed and yet it remained on display for curious tourists and film buffs to view.
Last year, Captain Lance Holmquist and Suzanne Holmquist signed a long-term lease with Jim Hendricks’ son to restore and operate the vessel again. The Holmquists have overseen repairs and have taken 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.
“We wanted it to look beat up, like it appeared [in the Congo] in World War I,” said Suzanne Holmquist. “It’s starting to get its sheen back, and its authentic look.”
Plans for the African Queen include, starting in late April, offering two-hour canal cruises several times daily and six-passenger dinner cruises on selected nights in Key Largo waters, including a pre-fix menu at the Pilot House restaurant in a designated area dubbed the “African Queen Corner.” In addition, it is expected to be available for private event charters.
For cruise reservations and other African Queen information, call 305-451-8080. Information is to be available soon at www.calypsosailing.com.
The April 12 re-launch event is part of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce business spotlight series. A $10 donation for chamber members and guests and a $15 donation for non-members are suggested.