ONE of the quirkiest places in the United States, the Florida Keys is a long string of tropical islands famous for boating, fishing, Ernest Hemingway and being close to Cuba.

It’s also the home to a piece of movie history – the 30-foot-long iron steam-driven boat African Queen.

Made famous by the classic 1951 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, the African Queen takes tourists around a marina at Key Largo, and is the smallest – but easily the most famous – of the many boats managed by owner Suzanne Holmquist.

She has lived in Key Largo for 20 years alongside husband Lance and three children, and her route from Glasgow to the balmy Keys was an unusual one.

Born in London, Holmquist spent her early years living outside Nottingham before her parents, a fork-lift driver and a sewing machinist, moved back to Possilpark when she was 10 years old. She went to St Augustine’s School in Milton but didn’t finish university.

“I went to work in television as a post-production editor,” Holmquist said, adding that her early dreams were of working in film or on a show in either Los Angeles or New York.

“But then I met my husband on a trip to Dublin, and everything changed. When he told me he lived in Florida, I thought ‘well, I can just work for Disney or something in Orlando’.”

However, Disney World is nearly 300 miles north of Key Largo and her husband’s life of boats and afloat was a real challenge at the beginning.

Holmquist said: “Everything here is about water, and I was not water inclined at all. I have always been a bit of a nerd, a tech person and preferred being indoors.

“But bringing up our children was transformative. I love that they can study marine biology and scuba dive – in fact I learned to dive alongside my daughters and they and my son are all water babies.”

Lance is of Swedish origin, but was born in San Diego, California, where he was a “surfer kid.” He left school at 16 and surfed all over the world, ran a dive business on the Barrier Reef in Australia at 18, and ended up in Miami, where he began working on boats.

“I knew nothing about boats either,” Holmquist laughs. “I had hardly even been on one but I started helping him with the business. He’s one of the best captains in Florida.”

Lance’s charter business has always been busy, and now they own or look after around 20 boats, including 10 catamarans, a “pirate” sail ship, and a converted former Coastguard boat.

But even though some are large, luxury sport fishing boats, the African Queen, Holmquist admits, has been special since they first saw it. “Every day we walked past, and could see that she was wasting away. She was rusted, had big holes – she couldn’t even be floated.

“Lance is a boatbuilder too and he realised she was about to be 100 years old in 2012, so we approached the African Queen Trust and offered to restore and recreate her, then share the profits.”

Built in Lytham, England, in 1912 and initially christened the Livingstone for the East Africa British Railways, the African Queen shuttled cargo, missionaries and hunting parties across the Victoria Nile and Lake Albert, on the border between the Belgian Congo and Uganda – until director John Huston saw her.

After the film, she remained in service until 1968, when she was brought to America and spent time toiling as a charter in San Francisco, Oregon and eventually Florida.

The $70,000 restoration including replacing the boiler, fixing holes, shining the mahogany planking, adding new rails, and even getting special permission from the Navy to fly the battered English flag.

All boats require constant attention says Holmquist, who confesses to spending a lot of her time writing hurricane plans.

She said: “A month ago there was a mini tornado over the marina in Key West, where we have a couple of huge boats. It snapped all the lines on one of them, and she was about to drift out to sea.”

Holmquist learned about this while she was in Scotland on her yearly trip home. Her late brother’s five sons often come to Key West too, and her father visits annually for two months.

“He loves it,” Holmquist said. “He and my husband get up to lots of hi-jinks! The first time he came he rode on the back of a Harley-Davidson to a biker bar, where he got flashed by a woman!

“He loves to sit outside in our backyard – we’re the last house in the canals, before you go out to the ocean. Sometimes he sees a manatee or the nurse sharks that hang around there.”

Social media keeps Holmquist connected, but she confesses to missing Glasgow “every single day”. She added: "The thing I miss the most is steak pie, which I have every day when I am home. The people too.”

Despite “loving to work,” Holmquist says she and Lance hope to start “winding down” soon, though they still have some plans for the future and for the African Queen.

Over the years, the boat has been shipped around the world so she could sail in famous locations, such as Sydney, New York, London and Dublin, and a small plaque onboard marks her taking part in the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk.

Taking her to the big boat shows and conventions across America might be an option too, since they already do high-end vintage shows and events in Key Largo.

Holmquist said: “It’s always strange to see her moored next to a multi-million-dollar mega-yacht, looking so tiny, yet everyone is only taking pictures of her! Yes, she still has a few adventures left in her."

Another idea is to take her down the Okeechobee Waterway, which runs across East-West across Florida, for a possible television series.

For several years Holmquist was the creative director for a Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo, and she says that she wants to maybe executive produce, or even write and direct in the future as well.

“One of my daughters is an aspiring actress,” she adds.

“She’s filming a western now in Oklahoma, and is at college in California.

"She already has an agent, so I guess right now I’m a ‘momager’.

“In the end, I’d think like to see the African Queen in a proper museum, because salt water does rust and it’s hard to keep her seaworthy.”

She and Lance also have a grand Scottish plan. “We’re thinking of buying a castle. Seriously. We had a look at Brechin Castle when we were there recently (40 acres; more than $3.5m). Maybe we’ll develop it, and live there for part of the year. But whatever happens, it has to be near water!”

Holmquist flies the Saltire in the Keys and regularly hosts “tea days” at her home.

“We have proper tea, and shortbread, and chocolate biscuits, and I buy imported sausage and bacon. I try to bring the Scottish element to our life here,” she laughs, adding that she makes sure every catamaran has a teapot, a kettle, and a selection of teas on board.

“I have my own small collection of teapots as well, and I take teabags with me everywhere.”

You can find out more at