KEY LARGO -- A gin-swilling riverboat captain is persuaded by a strong-willed missionary whose brother has been killed by the Germans to attack a German warship in 1914.
That fictional encounter was published as a novel by C.S. Forester many years ago.
John Huston's 1951 film "The African Queen," starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, brought that novel to life on the silver screen.
Now, 60 years later, Capt. Lance Holmquist and wife Suzanne are determined to bring the vessel back to life.
Last week Lance Holmquist, who has a legacy of restored classic boats, lowered the African Queen from its davits next to the Key Largo Holiday Inn, where the original movie boat and former tourist attraction has rested and rusted for almost a decade, and moved it to a local boat yard for extensive repairs.
The engine is in disrepair, the wood is coming apart and the steel around the rudder is rusting away.
Jim Hendricks, whose father Jim Hendricks, Sr., purchased the Queen in 1982 for $65,000, brought her to Key Largo next to the Holiday Inn, which he owned at the time. Hendricks Sr. died in 2002 and his son, who still owns the classic boat and operates the hotel's gift shop, said it is time to restore the Queen and resume its inland water tours.
"This is something I've always wanted to do. I can't imagine a bigger tribute to my dad than giving the Queen her voice back," he said, referring to the boat's shrill whistle.
The British East African Railroad commissioned the boat's construction in 1912 and shipped it to what was then the Belgian Congo.
"The boat had several generations of engines built in England," Hendricks said. "She was shipped to Africa and carried over land to Stanleyville where she worked on the Rukki River. She was named the 'Livingstone' after the legendary Dr. [David] Livingstone."
In 1950 John Houston and Sam Spiegel acquired the boat and renamed her the African Queen.
"The movie was filmed on location [in the Belgian Congo] except for the famous leech scene which was filmed in England," Hendricks said.
Now the Queen will once again have a chance to entertain.
"We will restore her and put her back into operation," said Suzanne Holmquist. "We have a 10-year lease and will put tens of thousands of dollars into restoring her. We'll try to make her exactly like she was."
The Holmquists signed an agreement with Hendricks last week that calls for them to completely restore the 28-foot steam-engine-propelled boat and then use her to take guests out for cruises. They estimate the restoration project to take about two months.
Jackie Harder, president of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, was pleased to hear the iconic boat would again serve as a local attraction.
"The African Queen is a very significant part of the multi-faceted personality of Key Largo," she said.
The African Queen has helped maintain a link between Bogart and Key Largo for years. Bogart also starred in the 1948 film "Key Largo," which along with Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson. Bogart's only Oscar as best actor was in 1952 for "African Queen."
Hendricks pointed out that the names of two of Bogart's best films are featured on the boat's life ring: "African Queen" and "Key Largo."