Former Rancho Santa Fe resident restores historic African Queen

Former Rancho Santa Fe resident restores historic African Queen
Lance Holmquist, who grew up in Rancho Santa Fe, completes restorations on the historic African Queen boat in Key Largo, Fla. for its 100th anniversary. Courtesy photo

RANCHO SANTA FE — It can only be considered another notch in the belt of the seemingly adventurous life of former Rancho Santa Fe resident and Torrey Pines High School grad Lance Holmquist. Just weeks ago, Holmquist, who now lives in Key Largo, Fla., finished restoring the historic boat The African Queen and took it for its inaugural steam-powered cruise in time for its 100th anniversary.

The project, said Lance’s mother Joan Holmquist, who still lives in the Ranch, has sparked international interest. Joan was able to join her son on the inaugural run once the boat was restored.

“It was great,” she said. “There was a news team in a boat in front of us taking pictures, and the whole canal was just lined up with people to see it. So it was a pretty memorable occasion. There was hooting and hollering to the African Queen. It was a lot more than I thought it was going to be.”

The boat was built in 1912, near the same time and place as the Titanic, and its history is filled with as many stories as its restorer can tell.

Katharine Hepburn (left) and Humphrey Bogart star in “The African Queen” directed by John Huston. Photo courtesy of Horizon Pictures (Public domain).

The African Queen worked for 60 years in the African Congo, ferrying mercenaries, missionaries, big game hunters, bridge builders and engineers throughout.

It was also used in the 1951 film of the same name directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

Holmquist runs his own charter company and restores old boats in Key Largo where the African Queen had been sitting idle for the past 10 to 15 years, falling into a state of deterioration from the abuse of natural elements and hurricanes.

The boat belonged to Jim Hendricks Sr., a Florida attorney who had purchased the boat in the 1980s. After his death, the boat remained in the family’s possession. Holmquist had gotten to know the Hendricks family and had even worked on the boat prior to undertaking its full restoration.

Holmquist offered to lease the boat and the deal was OK’d by the one of the Hendricks’ sons. Holmquist began working on the boat just after the New Year.

The boat itself had become a popular tourist attraction, but because of its dilapidated condition, it left many visitors disappointed by what they saw.

Hearing those comments of disappointment and knowing the boat was nearing its 100th anniversary is what prompted Holmquist to get started working on the boat.

Lance Holmquist (left) with his wife Suzanne travel up the Key Largo canals in the African Queen, which Holmquist restored for it 100th anniversary. Photo courtesy of Lance Holmquist

When Holmquist began the restorations he said the boat had so many holes in it that when it would rain, the water would just come pouring out of the bottom of it.

Holmquist said he’d put more than 1,000 hours of work into the restoration and, working with a crew of six others, was able to complete the work in four months. He was afraid that if the work hadn’t started when it did, the restorations would never have taken place.

“This was a real national treasure…having this in our backyard and it’s just sitting here rotting away,” he said. It was a shame, he added.

When he was working on the boat Holmquist was amazed by its original construction. He was amazed to see the use of galvanized 10-gauge steel rivets and the red and white lead gaskets that helped seal and protect the inside sections of the boat. “The construction of it, I was really surprised that the old metal that was a hundred years old was in such good condition,” he said.

“They just don’t make them like that anymore; they just don’t build like that,” Holmquist added.

Since the completion of the restorations, the public has become enamored with the boat once again, and Holmquist said people love to hear the boat’s famed steam whistle blow once more.

Holmquist gives tours of the boat and powers it down the canals, still under the original steam-powered engine, which he had to learn to use.

“The steam engine is very difficult, very temperamental,” he said. “It wasn’t for the dummy to run these things…it could be a very volatile situation if you didn’t open the valve on time,” he said. “Us, doing a tour on it every day, it’s really necessary for the captain and the engineer…to really pay attention to all of the gauges and to really look at what’s going on the whole time,” he said.

In the film, “The African Queen,” Humphrey Bogart plays a curmudgeon of a captain, something that Holmquist said he can identify with. “He’s a pretty salty kind of character and I think I’ve been kind of accused of being that way myself; kind of blunt and straight-to-the-point,” he said. “In my business, I think it works a little bit better.”

One thing that Holmquist would like to do with the boat is take it up through the Everglades in the wilderness waterways, which he said is close to same type of surroundings that the boat once cruised in the Congo.

The African Queen was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

More information may be found at calypsosailing.com.

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  1. Steven W Lindsey says:

    Built the same year as the RMS Titanic, but lasted much longer!

    —Steve Lindsey
    state rep
    Keene, NH

    (I always thought the Africans should recover some of the old lake steamers and put them back into use, like the Swiss have done with their old lake steamers. Great tourist draws.

    Also, as interesting aside: the steamer that played the German gunboat Lousa still exists too. As a foating “boatel” on one of the lakes.)

  2. stan miller says:

    I viewed the “Queen” in Key Largo several years ago and thought it tragic that it was rotting away….thank you to Lance Holmquist for the resolve to return this classic to its seaworthy condtion…fair winds and calm seas always….

  3. Mack Stephenson says:

    I was doing some Schaafs family genealogical research, searching specifically for Lance Holmquist, wondering if he was indeed the son of Joan Schaafs Holmquist [my wife's first cousin whom she has never met but once talked to], and I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I came upon this article and got to read Joan Schaafs Holmquist’s comments about her trip aboard the legendary African Queen on its 100th Anniversary. Not only did it answer my question but WOW!, my mouth was wide open the whole time I was reading this story about the amazing contributions to Marine History which Lance Holmquist has made with the restoration of this great American Icon.

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