Humphrey Bogart's boat 'African Queen' saved from scrapheap

Story highlights

  • The African Queen is a steam boat that featured in a 1951 movie of the same name
  • The film starred Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn
  • After the death of its previous owner, the 100-year-old vessel fell into a state of disrepair
  • A movie loving Florida couple have restored the ship to its film star glory

The historic vessel which provided the setting for Humphrey Bogart's only Oscar winning performance has been resurrected from the scrapheap by a movie-loving Florida couple.

The African Queen is a 100 year old steam boat famed for its starring role in the 1951 hit movie of the same name.

The classic picture -- which also starred Katharine Hepburn and told the story of a Canadian steam boat captain and a British missionary working in German East Africa during the First World War -- saw Bogart receive the 1951 Academy Award for best actor.

After falling into a state of disrepair following the death of its previous owner in 2001, the vessel was spotted gathering rust in a Florida marina late last year by Suzanne Holmquist and her engineer husband, Lance.

The couple have since repaired the ailing ship and opened it up to tourists and film enthusiasts, providing cruises around the Florida Keys aboard the famous vessel.

See also: Historic vessel Cutty Sark rises from ashes

"It's (the boat) held in a trust so we approached them and talked about restoring it," says Holmquist on how she stumbled upon the famous vessel.

"We have a tall ship business that operates right next to where the African Queen was stationed in Key Largo. It was just wasting away so we offered to restore it and put it into our charter operation," she adds.

Although most famed for its role alongside Bogart and Hepburn, the African Queen had a long and colorful life before hitting the big screen, explains Holmquist.

Built in 1912 at Lytham Shipbuilding Yard in England, the vessel was originally named the Livingstone and served as a cargo vessel for the British East Africa Rail Company.

It spent most of its first 50 years operating in the waters of the Ruki River in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo where she was used to transport a mixture of hunters, mercenaries and cargo.

In the early 1950's the ship was spotted by the director of the African Queen, John Huston, and pulled temporarily from service so it could be used in the movie.

See also: HMS Victory gets $25 million revamp

By the late 1960's however, the African Queen had swapped the big screen and the rural hinterland of the Congo for the concrete jungle of San Francisco. An American businessman transported the ship to the Golden Gate city where he hoped to harness its Hollywood fame to operate it as a tour boat.

This idea proved unsuccessful however and the vessel then changed hands a number of times before coming to the attention of Florida attorney and Humphrey Bogart enthusiast, Jim Hendricks Sr. in 1982.

Hendricks Sr. eagerly snapped up his very own chunk Bogart movie memorabilia which he owned until his death in 2001.

During this period Hendricks Sr. took the African Queen around the world, gracing flotillas that marked the 50th anniversary of the battle of Dunkirk in the English Channel and the Queen Mother's 90th birthday on the River Thames.

Once Hendricks Sr. passed away however, the vessel once more fell upon hard times, wasting away on a lonely jetty in southern Florida.

It was here that Suzanne Holmquist, herself a self-confessed Bogart and Hepburn buff recognized the boat. Late last year she made an offer to the owners to put it back in working order.

"It had big holes in it and was kind of like a sieve when it rained, all the water was just pouring out," says Holmquist.

"My husband has restored big boats before, some bigger than this one, so I knew that we could do it," she adds.

The ensuing restoration project has been a detailed and thorough process taking fully six months to complete.

See also: Tourism at the bottom of the deep blue sea

The hull has been equipped with a new steel frame, a replacement boiler has been installed and the original black African mahogany wood decks have been repainted.

In order to maintain the boats worn and rustic charm however, Holmquist says it has been splattered with mud so as to make it look exactly like it does in the movie.

"Most of the interest so far in boat has come from movie fans ... so we wanted it to make it look as much like it does in the film as possible," says Holmquist.

The ship has even had a special guest visitor in the shape of Humphrey Bogart's son, Stephen, who gave the freshly completed restoration efforts his blessing.

But by using the African Queen's Hollywood past to draw people aboard, Holmquist also hopes to provide visitors with an understanding of the ship's rich history beyond the silver screen.

This a story Holmquist herself says she has been fascinated to discover over the course of the past few months.

"I knew it was famous from the movie but as time has gone on I've found out a lot more about the history of it and where she has been," says Holmquist.

"Hopefully we'll be able to relay that story and all those who come to visit can learn a little more about the boat and her incredible life," she adds.


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