African Queen, boat used in Bogart film, back offering tours on the Nile

Boat from movie with Katharine Hepburn has been restored, with tours now being offered

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 10:44pm


Sixty years after Humphrey Bogart steered her through crocodile-infested waters, the African Queen is back plying the Nile.

Lovingly restored, the boat is operated by Cam McLeay, a New Zealand adventurer and Nile enthusiast, and took its first passengers for a ride in December.

"The African Queen belongs on the Nile. So it is so important to have the boat back home over 60 years after the film was made," McLeay said.

In 1950 Bogart and Katharine Hepburn flew into Uganda together with a huge team from Hollywood to shoot the movie of the same name.

The film told the story of a prim missionary and a gruff adventurer, the captain of the African Queen - two totally different characters - who in true silver screen fashion end up falling in love despite the odds.

Based on a 1934 novel by CS Forester, the movie was set during the first world war in German-occupied east Africa. "There were actually two of these boats. One of them was in Congo and this is the Nile's African Queen," explained McLeay.

In the 1990s he set up a rafting company in Uganda's Jinja area, and then he had an eco-lodge built on an island in the river.

He then started thinking about a river boat to do trips and sundowner cruises for tourists, showcasing the scenery and the varied birdlife. McLeay learned of the existence of the African Queen when on holiday on Kenya's island of Lamu.

"I was looking for an authentic African boat to run on the Nile and I was thinking of buying a Swahili dhow," he recounted.

"Then this hotel owner said: 'Why don't you buy the African Queen? She's from Uganda!'"

A week later McLeay had gone to Nairobi and tracked down Yank Evans, a septuagenarian who had found the hull of the boat abandoned in northern Uganda's Murchison Falls national park 20 years earlier and had done it up.

Another five years went by between the boat's return to the banks of the Nile and the start of services on the river.

McLeay says he has tried to recreate an atmosphere of times gone by on board his African Queen, the time when huge tracts of Africa were - for Western adventurers at least - still virgin territory waiting to be explored.