Christopher Columbus sighted Cayman Brac and its sister island, Little Cayman, in 1503 when his ship was blown off course during a trip between Hispaniola and Panama. He named them "Las Tortugas" because of the many tortoises he spotted on the islands. The Cayman Islands were renamed by Sir Francis Drake, who landed on them during a voyage in 1585-86. He used the word "Caymanas", taken from the Carib name for crocodiles after he mistook the local rock iguanas for crocodilians. During the heyday of piracy, pirates used Cayman Brac as a haven and a place to replenish their supplies.
Of interest to scuba divers is a 330-foot Russian Frigate ship built in the Soviet Union in 1984 for the Cuban Navy. It was purchased and sunk by the Cayman Islands government in September 1996. Originally designated 356, the frigate was rechristened the M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts, after a well-known Cayman Brac politician. The wreck originally sat upright in approximately 90 feet with the deck at 60 feet, until wave action generated by a winter Norwester storm (Dec 1998-Jan 1999) which nearly tore the ship in two. The result was that fore section tipped to about a 45 degree angle in relation to the remainder of the still-upright aft portion. and the midships became a debris field. The wreck's stern area was effectively unaffected. The frigate is located in a sandy area with generally good visibility, approximately 200 m offshore (a fairly long swim from 'Buccaneer'), on the island's north side, near its west tip of the island. There are numerous openings in the upper portion of the ship for non-wreck certified divers. Many more openings are available since the ship broke in half. The site also serves as an artificial reef.
The Teignmouth Electron, the boat in which Donald Crowhurst attempted to sail round the world single-handed in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, has been left to decay by the beach on Cayman Brac. The Electron has been beached since at least 1989 (Hurricane Gilbert).
Cayman Brac also appeals to adventurers of many persuasions besides diving. Caves are found around the island, offering even the fledgling spelunker a glimpse of delicate underground formations. Steps, sometimes ladders, have been constructed to allow visitor access to more remote caves. One cave, Rebecca's Cave , contains the grave of a young girl lost in a struggle against the ravages of the great '32 Hurricane and it is a Cayman National Heritage Site.
Rock climbing was developed beginning in 1992 and the island is now known as a world-class climbing destination. One must be somewhat experienced to climb here as the terrain is steep, many times over-vertical.
Walking and hiking trails have been opened by the Nature Tourism Programme which allow exploration of the island's dense Karst forestation. Unique flora and fauna thrive here and can be observed 'in the wild'.
Because of Cayman Brac's unique geographic location, the pristine waters around the island are especially coveted for both surf fishing and the pursuit of big game fish.
The local economy tends to be concentrated in three areas which are probably typical for many Caribbean locales: tourism, municipal government, and local enterprises. The majority of the tourism sector is concentrated on scuba diving, although this is in recent decline in the hospitality sector, with one of the two local hotels closing operations in 2006.
A local enterprise that is nearly unique to Cayman Brac are its Artists who work in a local stone known as Caymanite, typically making jewelry or small stone carvings. Two of these artists have been Eddie Scott and Tenson Scott, whose works have won National contests , as well as being the official gift to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew during the 1994 State Visit (citation & photographs of the turtles needed). Many of the families originating from Cayman Brac, including the Waltons, Scotts, Kirkconnells, and Fosters have become significantly wealthy in Grand Cayman through property and business ownership.
Two primary schools, Creek & Spot Bay Primary School (Amalgamated in September 2003) and West End Primary School serve the eastern and western portions of the island, respectively. Creek & Spot Bay consists of two campuses; 1-3 students attend the Creek Infant School and 4-6 students attend the Spot Bay Junior School; both are operated by one administration.
Cayman Brac High School provides secondary education.