Queen of the sea – film namesake is popular attraction

Kim Fundingsland/MDN The small steam-boat made famous on the big screen, the African Queen, still carries tourists out of Key Largo, Florida. The namesake of the 1951 film has been restored and is a popular attraction in the Keys.

KEY LARGO, Fla. – At a distance it certainly looked misplaced on the water. Junky even. But, my oh my, as we drew closer what emerged was a magnificent piece of history. At least Hollywood history.

First to come into clear view was the unmistakable colors of the large Union Jack, or British flag, flying from the bow of the low slung vessel. Then there was the old stack from the steam engine near the middle of the boat, a small canopy under which the images of a few people could be seen and the Stars and Stripes flapping distinctly off the stern.

Could it really be the African Queen?

The letters on the bow confirmed it was. Yup, it was the same African Queen that carried Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn through the movie with the same name. What a sight it was!

There, in the middle of the shiny blue and green waters of the famed Florida Keys, mixed in among the modern luxury cabin cruisers and chartered fishing boats, the African Queen chugged slowly across the salty sea. It was a startling contrast of the old and the new.

Restored to her former glory, such as it was, the African Queen was originally built in England in 1912. She was christened the S/L Livingstone and shipped to British East Africa where she saw service carrying mercenaries, cargo and hunting parties. In 1951 the narrow craft appeared as the African Queen in the adventure film for which Bogart would receive the Academy Award for Best Actor. It would be his only Oscar.

The silver screen boat eventually fell into disrepair. In its history it had been sunk and recovered and stored on dry land where the wind and the sun hastened its demise. In 2011 an ambitious couple began a complete restoration and brought the African Queen to Key Largo. Today the curious and the sentimental happily pay a modest fee to ride the famous boat and step back in time with Bogart and Hepburn.


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