Windjammer Barefoot Cruises canceled another sailing. Meanwhile,
customer complaints mount, and the state has barred the company from
selling travel until it posts a surety bond.
BY PATRICK DANNER
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' troubles appear to be worsening, casting
further doubt on whether it will sail any of its four tall ships again.
The financially ailing Miami Beach company had planned to resume
sailing one of the ships this past weekend, but canceled after it
failed to ''overcome the vast difficulties and roadblocks that have
hampered [its] operation of late,'' the company said on an online
message board popular with Windjammer aficionados.
It's the fifth time a sailing on the Legacy has been canceled since a
son of Windjammer's legendary founder Mike Burke announced the cruise
line would restart on Nov. 3.
The company has set a Jan. 5 target date to resume sailing the Legacy,
but it's not supposed to sell trips because its state license has
expired. More than 100 customer complaints have been filed with
Meanwhile, Windjammer's vessels still are detained in various
Caribbean ports, encumbered by liens.
The vessels have fallen into disrepair while they've been idle, said
Anthony Bellmar, a maritime official in Grenada, where three of
Windjammer's vessels are registered.
''Ships deteriorate quickly if you don't pay attention to their
needs,'' Bellmar said. ``The longer they wait, the more expenses to
bring the ships back to standard. Sailing would be difficult.''
Joey Burke, who has been trying to revive the business started by his
father 60 years ago, said he had been advised by an attorney for the
family trust that now owns Windjammer not to say anything because
there is a reorganization in the works that involves outside investors.
Previous attempts to land investors, however, have not panned out.
One purported investor has even sued Windjammer, accusing it of
''double-dealing'' by negotiating with other parties.
The U.K.-based lawyer for the trust didn't respond to a message.
The string of canceled cruises has alienated many Windjammer
customers. More than 100 complaints have been registered with the
state Attorney General's office and the Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services since August.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general said it is ''conducting a
preliminary review.'' The Department of Agriculture is investigating
Windjammer primarily to make sure it isn't selling travel while it's
not licensed by the state.
Windjammer's license to sell travel expired Nov. 9. Windjammer applied
for renewal on Nov. 20, but was denied because it didn't post a
$25,000 surety bond. The state is requiring the bond so that if
Windjammer fails to honor sales, customers have an avenue to obtain
refunds, said Terence McElroy, a spokesman for the Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Burke said Windjammer is in the process of getting the bond.
Greg Nelson of Somerset, Wis., had planned a week's vacation beginning
Nov. 11 from St. Lucia on the Windjammer's Polynesia vessel. The trip
was canceled and he has been fighting ever since to get a refund for
the cost of the trip -- about $2,700 -- from either Windjammer or his
credit card company.
''It's a good thing we're separated by a few states because I'm so
angry,'' Nelson said Friday. Later that day, he received an e-mail
''I have a negative balance in our account right now so I can't send a
refund right away,'' Burke wrote in the e-mail, which he confirmed
sending. ``We should have some money by the 18th from the sale of some assets. Can you please contact me then?''
Miami Herald business writer Bridget Carey contributed to this report.