By Richard Varr
It still chugs along with its engine clanking and smoke pouring from its blackened smokestack. Its whistle is piercing and clear. But instead of maneuvering along daunting waterways on the Dark Continent, the African Queen now sails within placid harbors and along clear water canals in Key Largo, Florida.
The original open-top boat, featured in the popular 1951 movie with the same name, has been restored and is now available for canal and dinner cruises. It’s especially popular with those wanting to relive a moment or two from the movie that starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, whose characters use the boat after a run-in with German soldiers during the onset of World War I.
“I think we have to be very careful with her. We have a big responsibility to keep her going and maintained,” says Suzanne Holmquist, who along with her husband had the boat restored. “We want to take her on some new adventures – I don’t think she’s finished yet.”
Built in 1912 in Gloucestershire, England, this year is the African Queen’s 100th anniversary. It was used mainly as a shuttle to move cargo and passengers across Lake Albert in central Africa. The boat’s boiler is a reproduction from the original vessel, and its boiler burns coal and wood as well as diesel fuel to drive the boat’s clanking engine. The vessel’s hull has a rope around it, and a faded Union Jack flaps along with American flags in the wind.
“Basically she has an 1800s steam engine and boiler which still builds up enough steam pressure so the engine can operate,” says Holmquist, whose husband restores boats. “For me, I have a background in film and television. Restoring it kind of blended both mine and my husband’s passions.”
“It put-puts along, and people love it,” Holmquist continues. “She’s quite slow so it’s a relaxed cruise that they go on and they just enjoy the sounds.”
“It’s hot, but the sound is unique in all the world. Everyone remembers that noise from the movie,” says Michael Huett, one of the boat’s captains. “I love it. We’re trying to preserve a piece of history.”
“I just think she still has a lot of adventures left in her,” adds Holmquist.
For more information: www.africanqueenflkeys.com