History of Boat Building in the Abacos

Port of Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas credit U.S. Coast Guard District 7 via Wikimedia Commons

It began with a shipwreck and a love story. In 1820, a marooned 16-year-old sailor named Benjamin Albury washed ashore on Man-O- War Cay, an outlying barrier cay in The Bahamas’ Abaco archipelago. He and his crew had run their ship aground in the reef along the tiny island’s Atlantic coast.

Man-O-War at the time was only inhabited by the Archer family, who settled there to farm in 1798. Hearing unfamiliar voices beyond the brush, 13-year-old Eleanor Archer soon discovered Benjamin Albury and his shipwrecked crew. According to Albury family lore, when Benjamin’s gaze caught Eleanor’s, it was love at first sight.

Benjamin’s crewmates sailed back home to the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, but he stuck around and married Eleanor the following year. As a wedding gift, Eleanor’s father gave the newlyweds his entire 60-acre plot on Man-O-War Cay, and the island began to take shape.

Benjamin was a descendant of the Eleutheran Adventurers — English Puritans who arrived in The Bahamas in the 17th century after refusing to swear allegiance to the Crown. Eleanor’s family was among the original settlers of Abaco, American colonists loyal to Britain who sought refuge after the American Revolution.

Eleanor, proving to be an urban planner ahead of her time, thoughtfully laid out the town’s every detail, including roads, a cemetery, church and school. Her foresight and her husband’s seagoing expertise set the groundwork for what blossomed into a well-knit community and thriving boat-building hub.

Mammy Nellie and Pappy Ben, as they were lovingly known, had 13 children and helped populate Man-O-War Cay. Their substantial family worked in seafaring and sail-making trades, but above all, Alburys were known for designing and building boats.

A nautical dynasty takes shape in the Abacos

By the 1880s, about 70% of boat builders on Man-O-War Cay had the last name Albury. They specialized in making smacks, sloops, schooners and Abaco dinghies, all crucial to Bahamian fishing and commercial enterprises. Other locals made their living fishing and wrecking — salvaging assets from the bounty of ships foundered along the reefs and sandbanks within the necklace of cays. As the lucrative wrecking business expanded, demand grew for Albury-built boats.

Man-O-War Cay quickly emerged as The Bahamas’ boat- building epicenter. An abundance of timber and an influx of laborers fueled a profitable shipbuilding industry on Man-O-War, and by the 1950s numerous shipyards lined its harbor. Boat- making prodigy William H. Albury, or “Uncle Will,” who built his first schooner at age 14, constructed some of the largest shipyards on the cay. The last big vessel he completed on Man-O- War was the 56-foot-long, two-masted schooner Esperanto, later renamed the William H. Albury in his honor.

Boat building on Man-O-War in the modern era

The schooner William H. Albury, built on Man-O-War Cay - CC By 2.0 DEED - Florida Keys History Center

In the generation that followed, the now late brothers Willard and Benny Albury started Albury Brothers Boats with their father Maurice in 1952. Their outboard runabouts and skiffs gained a reputation for strength, simplicity and seaworthiness, broadening demand for Albury Brothers’ boats. Originally built of Abaco pine, most Man-O-War-built boats eventually adopted a fiberglass design as lumber became increasingly scarce. Albury Brothers made the official switch from wood to fiberglass in 1985.

Demand for their boats got so high that in 2003, most of Albury Brothers’ production moved to Riviera Beach, FL. Now headed by Willard’s sons Don and Jamie, the company still builds its 18.5 and 23-foot-long models exclusively on Man-O-War Cay.

While some manufacturers crank out 30 boats a month, the Albury Brothers’ Man-O-War facility builds just six to eight per year. But that’s not just because things move a little more slowly here in the Abacos. After a 200-year reputation for superb craftsmanship, the Alburys have no intention of sacrificing quality for speed.

If you come to Man-O-War, be sure to visit Joe’s Studio, one of the best souvenir shops for locally produced gifts, nautical antiques and handcrafted boat models by Joe Albury. At 78, Joe represents the seventh generation of Albury to craft classic wooden Abaco dinghies from his studio on Man-O-War. Completing just two vessels per year, he employs time-honored techniques using simple hand and power tools.

Another keeper of tradition, Andy Albury of Albury’s Designs builds wooden boat models, half hulls, rocking chairs and other wooden products custom-made to order. And no trip to Man-O-War would be complete without a visit to Albury’s Sail Shop, where you’ll find Annie Albury weaving pastel-colored handbags and other fashionable items from sailcloth — another family tradition. A legend in The Bahamas, Annie has been sewing hats and bags since the late 1980s. Her warm smile can light up a room.

An inspiring recovery effort after Hurricane Dorian

On September 1, 2019, Category 5 Hurricane Dorian made landfall in The Bahamas and took direct aim at the Abacos. First devastating Elbow Cay, the storm next ravaged Marsh Harbour with up to 12 feet of storm surge. Dorian then churned north, decimating Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Treasure Cay and Coopers Town before finally stalling over Grand Bahama Island. The most powerful storm ever to hit The Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian left unforeseen destruction in its wake.

But Abaconians, known for their fortitude, courage, and love of community have staged a tenacious comeback. Evidence of Dorian’s destruction can still be seen everywhere, but docks are being built, construction projects are underway, businesses are reopening, and a spirit of renewal buzzes throughout the islands. Man-O-War Cay still holds its title as Boat Building Capital of The Bahamas, and the Alburys remain ubiquitous there.

Endless adventures await boaters

Wooden ship building credit Monique Shaw

The Abaco Islands lie just 165 nautical miles east of the Florida coast among a pristine paradise of turquoise waters. Two long slender islands, Little Abaco and Great Abaco, are complemented by dozens of small, largely uninhabited cays, islets and mangrove forests to explore, making the perfect setting for a boater’s adventure.

It’s no wonder that the Abacos are known as the Boating Capital of The Bahamas, with lots to do on land as well. Whether cruising in a golf cart through charming 18th- century English villages, perusing enchanting museums, reading on a white sand beach or birdwatching, Abaco offers something for everyone.

While island-hopping through the Abacos, keep in mind that although you’ll find exclusive collectables on Man-O-War Cay, one thing you won’t find there is alcohol. Due to its devotion to religious values, the entire island is dry. But the rest of the islands more than make up for it with a multitude of laid-back beach bars serving fruity rum drinks. After all, The Bahamas’ most famous cocktail, the Goombay Smash (see p. 51 for recipe), was first created here in Abaco.


Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour Marina

Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island


Centrally located in the heart of Marsh Harbour, this classic Bahamian marina offers boating provisions and resort amenities including restaurants, a fitness center and a private beach. Load up on foodstuffs at nearby stores like Maxwell’s and the Abaco Asian Market.

Conch Inn & Marina

Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island

242-577-7000 Known for outstanding service, this marina offers waterfront suites and is home to Snappas Bar & Grill, a celebrated hangout for Caribbean cuisine and libations.

Hope Town Inn & Marina

Elbow Cay

850-588-4855 With dockage for boats up to 125 feet, Hope Town Marina affords stunning views of the New England-style village and access to the candy-striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse — the world’s last remaining lighthouse that’s hand-wound by a keeper and fueled by kerosene.

Lighthouse Marina

Elbow Cay


Located at the base of the iconic Elbow Reef Light- house, this small but charismatic marina offers six protected slips for vessels up to 60 feet.

Man-O-War Marina Village

Man-O-War Cay

Still undergoing extensive repairs, Man-O-War Marina Village has a limited number of slips for docking as well as water, fuel and ice. Electricity should be available in early 2024. Be sure to visit the historic Man-O-War Heritage Museum & Coffee Shop.

Orchid Bay Marina & Yacht Club

Great Guana Cay


This full-service marina comes with a 217-acre resort and plant nursery along Guana Cay’s most beautiful beach, with dazzling views of the Sea of Abaco.

Bluff House Beach Resort & Marina

Green Turtle Cay


The oldest resort in the Bahamian Out Islands, Bluff House is the only marina on Green Turtle Cay to offer catamaran-specific slips.

Walker’s Cay


Just 53 miles northeast of Grand Bahama Island, Walker’s Cay is renowned for world-class sport fishing and recently underwent a massive restoration led by philanthropist Carl Allen.

Want to Stay In the Loop?

Stay up to date with the latest articles, news and all things boating with a FREE subscription to Marinalife Magazine!

Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Marinalife articles