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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

African Queen back on the Nile

The "heroine" of C.S. Forester's novel has been brought back to life by a New Zealander

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 told AFP.

In 1950 Bogart and Katherine 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.

Hepburn wrote a frothy account of the making of the African Queen, which was shot between Uganda and neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, subtitled "How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Houston and almost lost my mind".

Based on a 1934 novel by C.S. Forester, the movie was set during World War I in German-occupied east Africa.

The adventurous and entrepreneurial sort, back in the 1990s McLeay set up a rafting company in Uganda's Jinja area, and then had an eco-lodge built on an island in the river. 

This new idea came from a hotel manager on Kenya's holiday island of Lamu, who, when told that McLeay was looking for a dhow for the tourist trade, asked him if he knew that the old African Queen was available.  The owner, septuagenarian Yank Evans, was in Nairobi.  When McLeay tracked him down, he explained how he had found the hull of the boat abandoned in northern Uganda's Murchison Falls national park 20 years earlier and had done it up.

One of the challenges was to rebuild the steam engine, which was more than 100 years old.

There is the hitch that there is a couple in Florida who are doing the same thing, albeit in a very different setting.   "There were actually two of these boats, one of them was in Congo and this is the Nile's African Queen," explained McLeay.

So why did he choose the Nile for his operation?

"I'm very attached to the Nile. I've travelled the full length of the river, from the Mediterranean to the source in Nyungwe," he said. "I've been up and down the river for 16 years."

I vaguely remember seeing the movie -- indeed, I believe I was an usherette at the cinema that brought it back as a revival.  But I certainly don't remember that the steamer was so small.  I've also noticed over the years that C.S. Forester's plot has been adapted for many hundreds of modern romances.

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