White sails slowly come into focus on the horizon. The sound of waves slapping the hull and the flap of canvas in the salty breeze increases as the boat sails closer. The hull hums as it cuts through the water with ease as the Abaco dinghy tacks upwind through the islands. Sunshine and windy days on the Sea of Abaco make the perfect combination for sailing.
Unique to Abaco, the traditional Abaco sailing dinghies are widely revered. Large sails compensate the weight of heavy, Bahamian hard wood frames. Full-length keels keep them steady under sail and when there is no wind a single oar over the transom is used for skulling. The boats are built carefully from start to finish, from hand picking wood in the forests of Great Abaco, to stepping the mast and rigging the sails.
Joe Albury of Man-O-War and Winer Malone of Hope Town are two of the only men left in Abaco who still build these wooden dinghies. Building boats was a way of life for them growing up and something taught by their fathers from a young age. Sadly the knowledge of boat building will probably die with these men seeing as the younger generation has taken little interest in the craft – with a few exceptions such as the Key family.
Originally designed for transportation and fishing, Abaco dinghies are now mainly used for recreational sailing. They can be seen racing during the winter months, off Elbow Cay every other Sunday (weather permitting) from January 10- March 20.
‘Conniption’ built by Maurice Albury
‘Midget’ built by Winer Malone