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African Queen to sail again in Uganda

by The Guardian/Sail-World Cruising round-up on 1 Nov 2013
The original - as shown in the movie SW
The African Queen. She didn't have a sail, but she is certainly etched in the mind of many as the most memorable of boats, and cruising sailors who stray off the beaten track have always been able to identify with many of the privations of life on a small boat. The African Queen movie has been shown to generation after generation, and now the boat is to sail again in Uganda.

One of the two boats used in the making of the movie 'The African Queen', starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, has been restored for the purpose of running commercial cruises up Uganda's Nile River.

Cam McLeay, a New Zealander who owns a lodge at Jinja from near where the cruises will start, told 'The Guardian' he is confident his boat is the Nile's original African Queen, abandoned after filming finished – although there are other contenders.

McLeay told the Guardian he bought the vessel from Yank Evans, a Patagonian mechanical engineer who found the boat while working on the roads in Murchison Falls National Park in 1984.

'He [Evans] asked the locals what this was and they said, 'Well, that's the African Queen',' said McLeay.

'It was just a rust bucket. There was no engine but there was a funnel and there was the steel hull. She was all rotted away below the waterline and all the woodwork had been eaten by termites.'

The original film, shot in 1951, was shot on the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a tributary of the Congo river and at studios in England.

Although the African Queen was actually diesel-powered, she appeared as a steam engine onscreen and Evans decided to restore her to steam status for the commercial operation.

Diesel engineer Gavin Fahey has spent nearly the past six months rebuilding her century-old engine, which has the words T Parkinson Blackburn written on the manufacturer's plate. He has also replated the hull and replaced more than 100 boiler tubes. Most of the equipment came from Britain.

'She needs constant attention and to tick along at good pace (10kph approximately) requires good team work and constant monitoring,' said Fahey.

'Sometimes we need to turn around in tight spots. This leads to four or five gear changes and good timing as we are also dealing with currents, and the boat is heavy.'

Another boat claiming to be an original from the film is now in Florida, also having been restored, running daily cruises in Key Largo.

The African Queen now in Florida was built in Lytham, England in 1912 for service in Africa for the East Africa British Railways company. She was used to shuttle cargo, missionaries and hunting parties across the Victoria Nile and Lake Albert which was located on the border between the Belgian Congo and Uganda. After the movie she remained in service in Africa until 1968 when she was brought to the United States working in San Francisco, Oregan and Florida.


She has been the pride and joy of Key Largo since 1982, where she is registered as a National Historic site and in 2012 celebrated her centennial year.

But McLeay said reading Katharine Hepburn's book The Making of the African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind, convinced him that two boats were used during filming – and that his is one of them.

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