KEY LARGO -- For a while last Thursday, as the rebuilt African Queen chugged down the Holiday Inn canal toward the ocean with Humphrey Bogart's son aboard, onlookers were reminded of Key Largo's connection with Hollywood.
Capt. Lance and Suzanne Holmquist have spent the past several months -- and about $70,000 -- refitting and bringing back to life the iconic 100-year-old boat featured in the 1951 Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn film of the same name. Twenty years ago the boat was added to the United States Register of Historic Places.
Owned by Jim Hendricks, whose late father purchased the boat in 1982, the boat languished for 10 years at the dock at mile marker 99.7, until the Holmquists entered into a lease agreement with Hendricks and prepared the boat to once again offer rides. The boat had been docked since 2001 when its engine finally gave out.
The Holmquists were helped by Tommy Gallagher who rebuilt her engine while the boat's boiler was sent to England and later Rhode Island for repair. The boiler is due back this week. Meanwhile, the African Queen is propelled by an outboard motor.
Originally christened as the "Livingston," the boat served the British East Africa Railway Company by shuttling passengers across Lake Albert and along the Ruki River in the former Belgian Congo.
Last week, the 30-foot boat carried Stephen Bogart, the 63-year-old son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, his girlfriend and several guests who had bid on pieces of the classic boat on a half-hour cruise to the ocean and back to celebrate her restoration.
"It feels fantastic," said Bogart, a Naples resident. "This is a great connection -- Key Largo and the African Queen.
"To be able to ride on the African Queen and to be able to have it back in operation is absolutely tremendous. 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."
About 200 people gathered Thursday evening to see Bogart, bid on pieces of the Queen, sample Pusser's Rum and purchase African Queen T-shirts. All told the evening netted $9,000 to help fund the restoration project.
The booming voice of auctioneer Justin Minichino urged several bidders who vigorously vied for pieces of the orginal boat replaced during refurbishment.
Lance Holmquist's mom, Joan Holmquist, who had flown in from California, bought the first bit of metal mounted on a plaque for $900. That set the stage for a Fort Lauderdale couple, Cindy and Jim Caird, to win the second piece for a bid of $1,050. Fort Lauderdale screen writer Alison Mcmahon took the third piece for $1,000, and Key Largo resident Judith Booker bid $1,150 for the final piece.
Then each of the winning bidders climbed aboard the Queen for a victory cruise up the canal with Bogart, the Holmquist family and Bogart's girlfriend Carla Soviero.
The sound of a conch shell brought cheers from onlookers as the boat departed for a half-hour cruise just at sundown.
Bogart, who was only 8 when his father died in 1957, said he had little memory of the famous actor. Bacall, his mother, is now 87 and lives in New York. The famous couple starred together in 1948's "Key Largo."
Over the course of the evening Bogart posed for countless photos before sailing on the Queen.
"It is very important to keep the [Bogart] name alive," he said.
He said he hopes Key Largo might some day host a Humphrey Bogart festival, an idea that has been explored by the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. But even if that doesn't come to pass, he said he would be back.