Thursday, January 17, 2008

More on Windjammer woes

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises has been in trouble since last fall. Our last report, from my Miami Herald colleague Patrick Danner on Dec. 11, indicated that Windjammer's ship Legacy was slated to resume service Jan. 5.

That date has come and gone -- and all January sailings have been cancelled, according to a company announcement at Coconut Telegraph, posted on Dec. 21.

Refund and re-booking requests should be faxed to 305-531-1805, according to the posting.


From The Miami Herald



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 Florida agencies.

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 from Burke.

"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.


James said...

Windjammer is out of business. I, and many others have lost a lot of money to these scammers and rip-off artists, who continued taking our money even while cancelling cruises. I believe they had no intention of ever resuming, and were just hanging around long enough to collect more money before disappearing.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a lawyer's advice on this situation. Many (645 or so) of us have lost anywhere from $6000-$20,000 from what clearly could have been a time share scam from the get go. I hear the LaMer, formerly Discovery (and from all reports that's what still on its side) sits not in drydock as owners were told but sits rotting in the water and perhaps NEVER had any work done at all despite a report a few years ago about all the work being done. It seems illegal what the Burke children have pulled. How does one file charges?

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