I just spoke to a member of the Burke family regarding the current Windjammer situation. Susie, sister of Joey who is now in charge of the company, called me to respond to the newsletter we posted yesterday about our concern for Windjammer.
From what she tells me, Windjammer does have a plan of execution for bring the campany back into business right now. What they do not have is a lot of cash. They are actively looking for someone who can come to the table with a cash infusion, and also bring cruise ship operations skills to the table.
"The last six months have been devatstating for the family," say Susie. "We lost our brother Danny last March (07), and he was the one family member who was most actively involved in running the business."
The father of the family was Michael Burke who started Windjammer 60 years ago. He ran the operation himslef until he passed away. The company was left to all the children in the form of a trust, but most of them did not take an active interest.
The trustee is a David Harris who resides in the Isle of Mann (U.K.). Susie says that they know and trust David, but that David has put her brother Joey in command of the company for now. Joey has come forth with some public statements on plans to bring the company around, and though the task appears somewhat daunting right now, the family claims that the committment to their customers is still there.
Right now just one of the four ships the company owns is in service, the Legacy. Reservations are being taken for that ship now, the next sail date being November 3rd. The ship sails out of Costa Rica. The other three ships have been out of action since late September.
According to Susie, all of the upcoming Legacy cruises are being filled, mostly with"make-up" cruises for people who paid and did not get to cruise. Reservations are not being taken for the other ships, though Susie says the company is working hard on needed maintenance and hopes to have them sailing by April at the latest. She even said "optimistically, we think February is possible, but we do not want to make any promises we cannot keep."
As for promises, Susie says, "Joey is serious about making sure every person who paid for a cruise will get their cruise, it is just a matter of when we can accomodate them." She is upset that the company has been plagued by "rumors" posted online, and that a few disgruntled passengers have been making a lot of noise in several places about not getting a refund. The idea she wanted to impart with me was that "Windjammer is not trying to rip anyone off, and we care about making good to all of our passengers, all we are asking for right now is their patience."
So, how good are the prospects. One thing Susie mentioned that I have not seen them mention before is that Windjammer is actively seeking a new "partnership". They would welcome the sort of cash and management experience infusion that was recently given to NCL, for example. Though they do not need nearly as much money.
CruiseMates posted a newsitorial yesterday saying we cannot recommend any booking a new Windjammer cruise right now until they can demonstrate they have the financial wherewithal to keep the company afloat even though the times when they have to make up cruises from people who already paid.
While I did not get the impression that Windjammer currently has the necessary cash flow to weather this storm, I was encouraged to hear Susie say that they have renewed efforts to find the "right" partner.
She alluded that the family had set their hopes on the "wrong" people in the recent past, and when those people did not come through it was a "wake-up call" to all the Burke children that more serious attention to the matter was needed right away. She says all four ships were fully provisioned as recently as September and all seemed well. The reason they didn't sail had more to do operational problems than cash flow. now, however, with the recent cancelled sailings and lack of incoming revenue, the situation deteriorated more rapidly than anyone thought it would, which has been "devastating" to the entire family.
As editor of CruiseMates, I have to say that while yesterday I said I had my doubts about their ability to pull off a company resuurection, I will say that today I see a glimmer of hope. I will say that I do now believe it is possible they will turn the company situation around IF we hear news in the next couple of weeks that they have partnered with someone who truly knows the cruise business, and has the financial assets to pull them out of this hole.
I did not get the impression they have the deep pockets within the family itself to fix the problem. As of yet, they still cannot sell airfare which requires posting a bond. But they are selling cruise tickets, and hopefully will be selling them for all four ships very soon.
The good thing is that all four ships are paid for, unencumbered, and the company has no other outstanding debt, according to Susie. "What we need is an investor with ship operations experience, someone who can get those ships in shape and make sure we deliver what we promise."
So, what does CruiseMates recommend now? A "wait 'n see apporach." If I had purchased a cruise and lost my money, I would try to reschedule it and see what happens. Maybe I will get a cruise on Legacy after all. I still can't say "buy those Windjammer tickets now while they are on sale!" but if I hear they have the right new partner, then I wouldn't hesitate.
Cuise lines have gone under before due to mismanagement, and they have come back. Renaissance cruises was plowed under when Ed Rudner was in charge, but when Oceania Cruises emerged with almost the same management (minus Rudner) and leased back the same ships, they were an unbridaled success.
The Burkes have been through some very tough times lately, losing their beloved brother in March and now coming close to losing a business that has been in the family for 60 years.
I wish Windjammer and the Burkes the best.
Captain Joey's restoration effort seems to have fallen victim to the trust that controls Windjammer. Given the current situation, can you still view Windjammer with a degree of optimism? From my vantage point, the future seems highly questionable unless new owners, with deep pockets take the reins.
Through the Burkes' actions, with the exception of Joey, the most recent victim, the family seems unable and unwilling to do the right things:
- Pay the crews including those who left the ships,
- Provide tip monies previously diverted to other purposes,
- Refund immediately fees paid for cruise that never happened,
- Cover expenses for incidentals created by cancellations: increased air fare costs, hotel bills etc.,
- Fix the time share problem,
- Get the ships sailing soon.
New owners will have to shoulder a fairly large burden, which if not addressed, should and could cause the demise of Windjammer
I, for one, hope that Windjammer can get back on its feet. I've sailed with them twice and will never sail on another cruise line. Those were the best two vacations I have ever taken! Between the crew being so helpful, friendly and fun and the ships themselves, well, it just wouldn't be the same on another line. I have been out of the loop for a couple years and didn't even realize the problems that they were having. I wish I'd win the lottery and then I could be their "silent partner". Of course I 'd always be on of the ships so I don't know how "silent" I'd be. :wink:
I wish the Burkes good luck and hope they find what they need to keep the line going. It would be so sad to lose this line of the most beautiful ships I've ever seen.
I also would like to express how sorry I am for the loss of their family members.
Blessings to all
I want to thank you for digging deeply enough to really get at least most of the story.
I am a long time repeat Windjammer, and have known for a year they are hurting. But (I suppose I wanted to believe/decieve myself) I have listened to them blame bad luck, weather, poor management.
It nearly made me cry to realize the single biggest reason is con-artistry on a massive scale.
My wife and I have sailed a combined 136 weeks on Windjammer. We started in the 80s. We have Sail-5. I estimate we've spent and invested $110,000 (not including airfare). That was our choice. I'll live with their bitter disappopintments, and try and treat it as a life lesson.
But I will never, EVER forgive them losing the Fantome. We had sailed over 40 weeks (combined) on her. We knew many of the men lost. We believed their line "NOOA blew forcast and we listened to NOOA", hook, line, and sinker. To read that they KNEW the ship should have fled North of Mexico Yucatan and couldn't because of unpaid bills, even while the Burkes were playing grab-arse in their multi-million dollar mansions...
Those were GOOD men, they deserved better.
Thanks Paul, keep up the muck raking, even if the truth hurts us loyal Windjammers.
New to this board but have been on the Flotilla since taking my first 2 week sail on the Mandalay in Jan. 06. Did a repeat with 8 others we met on that sail in Jan. 07. Wanted to keep doing the sails but with the end of the 2 week sails I didn't book this year (luckily).
Was thinking of doing a back to back on the Star Clipper, but not sure if it will be too foo-foo for us.
With all sailings now canceled into Dec. and the bad news just building about WJ I feel like crying. The trips on the Mandalay were the most fun we have had since we were kids.
This is totally incorrect. I was PR and Marketing Director for WBC in the 1990s and left in 1998 (before Mitch). I came back to help with crisis PR and sat in on all the meetings on the matter including those with the Coast Guard. The idea of sailing north, into what was projected to be the storm's path was reviewed and rejected. The ship had a very slow top speed and with the counter-clockwise spin of the storm, she would have been held to a virtual standstill trying to head north around the Yucatan. Once around, it would have been trapped in the western Caribbean with no where to run had the storm gone across the Yucatan and continued on to Mexico (as the generally do when striking in that area. So, they headed south to the lee of Roatan island (a long narrow island that normally would have acted as a wave buffer. No one predicted that the storm would or could turn SOUTH. (When was the last time other than Mitch do you remember a hurricane taking a southern turn?) I was speaking off the record to a Coast Guard official who told me that they did everything right. The storm just had other ideas... Mike Vegis
Thank you for posting this information. I was glad to read your post because I would hate to think that they sent all those fantastic people and that beautiful ship to their end. I often think about them and hope they are resting in peace. I realize that what they did, by staying on board and trying to outrun the storm is the usual way to handle storms of this sort, but it was still a great loss. Not only to their families, but to those of us who sailed with them and on the ship. It doesn't matter how matter times you sailed on her or with the crew, you loved it. I sailed on her twice and in all the pictures of me, I always had a smile on my face. Those were the two best vacations of my life and I miss the crew and ship every day.
We are gald to have you postinbg in the boards. There are likely to be mnore than one reason why any decision is made. What I wrote was basewd on information given toi me by someone who was working in the Miami WJ office at the time the storm occured, and she told me trhere was a problem with an unpaid bill. The strom was still two days away when the decision wasa being made.
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