Windjammers Sail in Troubled Waters

A lifetime ago, I took a Windjammer sailing trip operated by Captain Mike Burke’s Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. I flew to Martinique and spent a few nights in a funky hotel in Fort-de-France, the island’s capital that at the time had no cruise-ship pier. Only one (for the time) big ship could anchor and tender its passengers in for a flurry of local activity. When the passengers, laden with shopping bags from small branches of prestigious French department stores, reboarded their ship, the town immediately settled down and had a quiet colonial ambiance. I was living in New York at the time, and Fort-de-France was a fine place to decompress before boarding a vintage sailing ship for trip through the Grenadine Islands. The ship on which we traveled called on such then-quiet islands as St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Petit St. Vincent, Grenada, Bequia and Carriacou. We sailed and sunbathed and beachcombed and snorkeled and drank rum punches and rented Mini-Mokes here and there to sightsee. Very low-key, and quite idyllic, at least as I remember the trip.
Now. it seems that Windjammer Barefoot Cruises and its ships are in trouble — with the beautiful Mandalay, a 1923 tall ship (shown in happier times, above left) in especially rocky condition. According to a Wall Street Journal report titled “A Rough Tide on Windjammer Cruises,” reads in part:

“Labor disputes with crew members docked two ships owned by the company
over the past couple of weeks, stranding some passengers…Windjammer has had
labor dispute issues on all four of its ships over the past two weeks. The
common complaint: Crew hadn’t been paid in weeks. Jerry Ceder, who on Monday
identified himself as a spokesman for TAG Virgin Islands Corp., the investment
company that is in the process of purchasing Windjammer from a family trust,
told reporters Monday that TAG Virgin Islands had paid the crews…But according
to a person familiar with the matter, the crew of the Mandalay still
hadn’t been fully paid as of yesterday morning and it was unclear if the ship
will be able to sail for its scheduled cruise this coming Sunday. Emails
obtained by The Wall Street Journal that were written by the captain of
the Mandalay to Windjammer officials and the ship’s agent confirm that the
company has been experiencing financial difficulties for some time….The other
issue is one of safety and the inability to get necessary repairs on the
Mandalay because of inadequate funds, the captain said in the email….AIG
Travel Guard
, which issues travel insurance, says its claims department was
looking into whether the company should be put on its financial default list
after it received word from a travel agent about the situation.”

A recent post on warned: “Windjammer is a failing company. Ships have been seized and remain in port for non-payment of port fees, crew wages, and fees to suppliers of other necessities. The crews have initiated a strike on several of the ships for non-payment of wages and tips. The ships are in poor repair. The Mandalay recently broke a bowsprit that was apparently rusted through. I wonder how thin and rusty the hulls on the ships of this company are. I have heard that some passengers were stranded and not allowed to board. Good luck if you’re scheduled for a cruise with this company. I would certainly have a plan “B” in place.”

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises’ website gives is no indication of trouble. When I clicked on the “Press” section, the page reported that there are no press releases for August 2007. Wall Street Journal reporter Nancy Keates might have successfully reached a company spokesman, but they certainly are not pro-actively enlightening the press or their prospective passengers on their current troubles.

33 thoughts on “Windjammers Sail in Troubled Waters”

  1. Just talked to Joanne Cuevas at Windjammer Barefoot Cruises..Our tip was cancelled 3 days before departure by them. We asked for a refund and were told they would reschedule for 2008 instead. I am concerned they won’t be in business then. Can you give me an update on their statis?

  2. Everything seems to be coming to head, but no final resolution appears to have been announced yet — though in truth, the travel trade media and the cruise sites/boards haven’t carried much on the subject either.

    On August 25, the Miami Herald (, “An investment firm poised to assume controlling interest in the family-run cruise company told the Wall Street Journal that customers would be compensated. But the private equity firm, TAG Virgin Islands, didn’t reveal when or how. Nor did Windjammer.” The Herald published a little more background a few days earlier at Be sure to read the comments. The Herald included a reporter’s E-address in that piece, so you might contact him and see whether he knows more.

    None of which will help you immediately. You can keep asking for a refund but you probably shouldn’t expect to get one from a company that is on the rocks and hasn’t paid its crew. If you put the trip on a credit card, you might get compensation from the card company. And of course, if you purchased travel insurance, that too should help.

    If you can’t get a refund and you aren’t reimbursed by a credit card company or insurance company, your last resort would appear to be to accept their offer for ’08 — and hope they are still in business then. Also, if they are, try to leverage your disappointment into the departure date, itinerary and cabin you want.

  3. A quick check of the Florida Division of Corporations ( revealed that the chief financial officer abandoned ship on 8/10. the day before our non-cruise. Of course the reply to the nervous passengers calling in through the actual morning of the cruise was that everything was fine. If you check their annual report, officers of the corporation are gone. CEO is deceased and CFO quit. No others listed – so who is at the helm now?

  4. Anonymous – You are terrific for having delved that deeply. I have been checking the Miami Herald’s on-line news site, but there have been no postings since that last August report on the company’s problems.

    Doesn’t sound as if anyone is piloting this sinking ship, until and unless TAG Virgin Islands (or some other equity firm) steps in and quickly appoints someone to start bailing.

  5. I plan to sail Nov. 11, 2007 with the Poly with Windjammer. I have not paid my final payment yet and I think it is due tomorrow. I am just learning that there may be a problem. What do you know??

  6. I don’t know anything more than I did a couple of weeks ago. The Miami Herald, which reported the the story, has not done a recent followup. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises’ 800 number gives no real indication that anything is amiss (though they do say, “If you are experiencing travel delays, leave a detailed message incl name, booking number and callback number.” They claim to monitor messages after hours, but judging from some of the consumer complaints at and, I wouldn’t count on them (granted, the most recent is several weeks ago). On Aug 24, Cruise Critic News posted an article outlining the company’s troubles (, promising, “We’ll keep you posted.” But CCN hasn’t kept readers posted at all. Other cruise websites/boards haven’t touched on these issues at all.

    On the one hand, the company phone number sounds like business as usual. On the other hand, there are a few disquieting reports — but no coverage at all in the media for quite some time. It all seems quite mysterious. If I had a booking that I wanted to keep in case things get ironed out, personally I’d pay by credit card, personally I’d try to buy travel insurance and personally I’d be prepared for disappointment in case the ‘Poly’ doesn’t sail.

  7. I called Windjammer Barefoot Cruises again. I’m paraphrasing the conversation, which went something like this:

    Me: “I’m interested in taking a Windjammer cruise, but I heard that there have been problems. Cruises have been canceled. Crews have walked off. Ships are in disrepair.”

    WBC reservationist: “We’re still here. Everything is on schedule again. The ships have been repaired.”

    Me: “Do you have a new owner?”

    WBC res: “Not yet.”

    Me: “Then who paid to fix the ships?”

    WBC res: “I don’t know. I’m just in reservations.”

  8. My folks just returned early from a non cruise on the Poly after the Panamanian Gov’t siezed the boat at port for three days after non-payment to the crew and a subsequent bond held on the ship. They sailed the Legacy the week before and said the ship looks terrible, tons of rust and mechanical issues with the life rafts.

  9. My recent conversation with the WBC reservationist notwithstanding, the situation seems more with the 9.14.07 message posted by “anonymous.”

    A message posted by “cinnemon,” self-identified as the fleet owner, on ( carries word of canceled departures of two of the ships. More posts are at (specificly I guess the reservationists are the last to know!

    Seriously, nine of this bodes well for upcoming scheduled departures, does it?

  10. A readers sent me the following dismal report on the Windjammer Barefoo Cruises situation:

    “Update on Windjammer: I must be the last person on earth to talk to Joanne Cuevas, customer service. My attempts at contacting her since have been met with silence….no returned calls.

    “The company, Berkely Care in Jericho, NY from whom we purchased travel insurance told me they couldn’t even return my insurance premium because the money went to Windjammer.

    “Do you have anything new on the health of Windjammer?”

    To her and everyone who has had promises trips canceled, calls unanswered and vacation plans spoiled, I can only offer my sympathy. To anyone contemplating a Windjammer Barefoot Cruise, I would say, “Heed the warning flags.” I am mystified that a travel insurance company did not “return the premium because the money went to Windjammer.” Insurance coverage is supposed to be for the aggrieved traveler.

    If the traveler actually booked with Windjammer, paid to cruise and the trip fell through, the money should cover some of her financial damages. Hpwever, if she never paid, I am not sure what the fine print might reveal about the premium. I’m no insurance expert, but I would suspect that it would
    like buying fire insurance and wanting the premium back because the house never burned down.

    I have tried to see whether any Miami news media have covered this meltdown of the company. So far, nothing recent that I could find.

  11. Check the windjammer flotilla site and you would read the latest mess the protector from England has done. He works for the law firm Charles Russell.

  12. Hello Claire,

    I stumbled upon your web site and glad I did. Having an extremely demanding work environment does not allow me to keep on top of this properly and your blog has provided valuable information. I am booked on the Mandalay for December 23, 2007 out of Antigua and I thought the troubles had settled down. Sounds like more of the same is continuing. Very vague responses from WJ about the future. I am going to put great energy into retrieving my money from the credit card company and go to Plan B …… book a different trip.

    This has been a nightmare from the start. I am sad by the events as I enjoy my WJ trips.

    I want to thank you for your efforts on researching the situation. It is really needed and I have been keeping my WJ friends posted of the events.

  13. Windjammer update, the web site is down and the office only has a recording announcing cancellation of the cruises for September 29. But, no mention of the Mandalay. I don’t understand why the press is not picking up on this. For all the stranded folks going forward, no explanation has been given nor offer of any compensation. Do you know anything new about next steps.

  14. Both comments posted anonymously suggest that Winddjammer Barefoot Cruises has unraveled.

    Regarding the first anonymous post, I agree that it’s amazing the media haven’t followed it. One piece in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ and one in the ‘Miami Herald’ — both roughly a month ago. That’s it.

    Re the second podt, s trip beginning Dec 22 is about the toughest time of year to get reservations anywhere — and certainly at anything approaching a reasonable price. Flights are also difficult to book then. The 22nd is a Saturday; Christmas is the following Tuesday. Wow!

    If you already have air to/from Antigua, perhaps try to get something there. If you haven’t paid for air, I suppose Costa Rica is as good a possibility as any. You might also consider putting this in the hands of competent travel agent who has more resources than even the most sophisticated “civilian” travel planner.

    Best of luck getting a refund and also finding a substitute trip.

  15. Save your money – Costa Rica sucks right now. It’s the rainy season, and my God, it rains 24-7. Not much fun on a sailboat while it’s raining, and no outdoor excursions to do. The water is usually to rough to make several of the stops, and the boat is scared of being “seized” in ports for non-payment of port fees, etc. One of the ships in the Costa Rica service were seized in Panama for three days? What a vacation?

  16. Costa Rica’s rainy season usually lasts through mid-November, but the anonymous visitor plans to travel on December 23. He or she is probably safe weatherwise.

  17. Has anyone tried doing research on TAG Virgin Islands Corporation and Jerry Ceder? Nothing that makes any business sense comes up. Doesn’t it make you wonder if that is for real. My guess is that it is not real and probably did not have the financial means to accomplish a purchase of Windjammer in the first place.

  18. Good point, Saturelle. I don’t pretend to be an investigative reporter, but I did Google search on “Jerry Ceder,” “Jerry Z. Ceder,” “Jerry Ceder, Virgin Islands Corp.” and “TAG Virgin Islands Corp.” Not too much comes up, and most of that is from late August. In fact, the newest material that I found was this post!

    I did find at that TAG is the Taurus Investment Group. See which was founded in Germany and now is involved (mostly in land and proprty deals) in Florida, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

    Interestingly, while the trolubles in the subprime mortgage market didn’t attract attention in the US until just a couple of months ago, TAG’s first quarter newsletter (through March ’07) started with, “No question that the subprime mortgage market in the USA is in trouble.” I don’t know when that issue was written, but it is the most recent on TAG’s website. I’m speculating that perhaps TAG’s real estate holdings in Florida and elsewhere in the US might have been hit by the crisis here, just as they had hoped or expected to take over or invest in Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

    Interesting as this is from some perspectives, it is of no immediate relevance to someone who was planning or hoping to taking a sailing vacation on a windjammer this fall or winter.

  19. I found this on another website from September 17:

    FWIW, I have been notified that the Legacy’s cruise for next week has now been cancelled. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises will have no ships
    sailing as of this weekend. Here is the status of the various ships
    as I understand it:
    Yankee Clipper – cancelled
    Polynesia – cancelled
    Mandalay – under arrest in Panama
    Legacy – cancelled

    Best regards,
    800-719-9917 or 805-566-3905

  20. Well folks, it seems that the coffin is being nailed shut on Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. Cruise Critic News posted a story today ( The guts of the piece answers the question on every tail-ship enthusiast’s mind: “the end appears to be near. The fleet’s four ships are all stranded, at least for now; Yankee Clipper is in Trinidad, Manadaly is in Panama, Polynesia is in Aruba and Legacy, its flagship, is in Costa Rica. The company has said, according to the boards (no official confirmation is available), that cruises are canceled for the next week and possibly beyond.

    “The Windjammer Web site no longer seems to exist. The company has famously not been communicating with passengers booked on near term voyages and certainly hasn’t started to become more forthcoming this past week — and naturally, speculation of the direst form ensues.”

    This is the end of the Windjammer SEASON along the Maine coast, but that looks to be the only practical option come next summer for such sailing experiences.

  21. Joe Burke, son of Capt.Mike Burke who created Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, posted an open letter on I fear that it might be a case of too little, too late — and given recent history, still not encouraging. Some of the comments to his open letter are even more skeptical than I But read his letter and the comments, pro and con, at and judge for yourself.

  22. Source Events , in Miami, and reportedly one of Windjammer’s “biggest customers”, has “sold out” or nearly sold out, a whole series of cruises for 2008. Source Events is a Gay Owned and Operated Travel Operator pecializing in Gay Travel. Even as Windjammer continues its seeming “meltdown”, they continue to advise passengers booked on the ships that they WILL sail in 2008. They claim to have some kind of “inside information” on the line. Meanwhile, they continue to accept bookings and collect money for said cruises. All this makes me wonder how deep Source Events is in with Windjammer and whether or not they will be able to honor their own financial obligations to customers who booked and paid for these cruises should Windjammer not get back into operation. The latest from Windjammer is that they plan to sail the Legacy on November 17, 2007 out of Costa Rica. Apparently, they left more people stranded without a cruise in Costa Rica the 1st week of November. It seems there is a decided lack of honesty and integrity at Windjammer. I do not understand how they can allow people to keep flying in for departures that are canceled. Does anyone know what is really going on here?

  23. just reported that Windjammer Barefoot Cruises “is as close to bankruptcy as I have ever seen a company, and all indications are it is just a matter of time before that is a reality. The odd thing is that they refuse to admit it. Frankly, I have seen Windjammer say one thing and then turn around and do the opposite so many times now that I personally don’t believe anything they have to say anymore.”

  24. I finally got all my money refunded from a cancelled Windjammer cruise in December 2007. What is amazing is how these people are able to continue operating this business in a manner like this. Who licenses and regulates this company? Are regulatory and State authorities sleeping at the switch or is this an unregulated business that can just operate in any manner.
    This has been like a pyramid scam. What the owners of Windjammer need to do is infuse some capital into this business and stop putting the public at risk with their vacation money.
    I am glad to have had the Windjammer experience on past successful cruises and will now focus energy on finding a new travel venue.

  25. I’m just sorry to see it end. I did alot of cruises in the 80’s on Poly and remember how Capt. Jacque (Peter McGroarty) kept the crew polishing the ship from stem to stern every day. I guess I’m glad I have those memories of the ship in its heyday.

  26. Does ANYBODY know what is happening with Windjammer? I would like to hear anything about fraud, legal action, the Burkes, LaMer status & Location, Florida Attorney General Actions, FBI Actions, Class Action Law Suits, Customer Group Actions or forums, ANYTHING! E-MAIL:

  27. Any other LaMer timeshare owners thinking of a class action suit? I can’t imagine what the Burkes have done is legal and it certainly appears that they have stolen $6400 of my hard earned money. I can be reached at

  28. The Sad Saga continues:

    Miami Herald 7/26/2009

    Joseph Conrad Burke died Saturday at 3 a.m., according to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner.

    The death is listed unclassified and not much is known about how he died, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

    What is known is that Burke was one of six children whose father Capt. Mike Burke launched Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

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