African Queen Key Largo

Keys Visitors Can Ride the “African Queen” Again

KEY LARGO, Florida Keys — Visitors to the Florida Keys can take a ride on the African Queen, the iconic original vessel from John Huston’s classic 1951 film by the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

Registered as a national historic site, a major $70,000 restoration project provided for structural, mechanical and cosmetic repairs.

Last Thursday, a “re-launch” party featured Stephen Bogart, son of film star Humphrey Bogart.

“To be able to ride on the African Queen and to be able to have it back in operation is absolutely tremendous,” Bogart said. “You know, I’ve never really been on many movie sets, and this is like being on a movie set, and just the fact that somebody bought it and has taken the time to restore it.”

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 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., horse pasture and purchased the piece of movie history for $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, 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.

“It’s 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 had gotten, it 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.”

Plans for the African Queen include, starting next week, offering 90-minute canal cruises several times daily and dinner cruises on selected nights, all from the Holiday Inn Key Largo, mile marker 100 oceanside, on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.

Costs are $39 per person for the daytime cruise, $25 for children under 12 and the dinner cruise is $89 per person, including the meal.

For more information, call 305-896-8004.