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Andy Rochells

Age: 68

Occupation:Consultant

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Windjammer Barefoot

Ship: Amazing Grace

Sailing Date: March 2005

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

This reviews provides post cruise information relating to the Sue Evans and J. Colleman reviews

In March 2005, my wife sailed on Windjammer’s Amazing Grace with the expectations of transiting from Freeport Bahamas to Port of Spain, Trinidad with 9-12 port calls. Unfortunately, we letter sitting on our stateroom bottom bunk informed us that an engineering problem would reduce ship speed-of-advance to six knots. The reduced speed would only allow the ship to travel as far as Sint Maarten. After returning from the cruise, we sent a mild letter of complaint to Windjammer, which focused on the last minute itinerary change. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' Customer Service Manager finally responded after 2.5 months. A major portion of that letter follows.

Windjammer Response

Thank you for contacting us in March and sharing your concerns regarding the unfortunate change to your cruise. On behalf of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, I do apologize for any inconveniences you experienced.

We understand that many passengers were upset with the last minute notice in the change of sailing/itinerary schedule. Unfortunately, Windjammer was given minimal notice from the ship owners and operators of the changes and we in turn did not have the luxury of time to advise passengers prior to sailing. Once onboard, everyone was advised of the changes and given the option to sail or disembark.

We tried to provide as much assistance as possible in re-arranging flights, hotels and other miscellaneous changes for passengers who chose to sail. We also absorbed many of the air cost and change fees incurred as a result of the change in disembarkation port. I am sorry if you felt our efforts were lacking.

In closing, I would like to refer you to our policy on Sailing/Itinerary Changes, which is clearly disclosed in our brochures (under "Important Information') and our website (under "Know Before You Go'). The policy is as follows.

Advanced or Delayed Sailings/Itinerary Changes
Windjammer has the right to cancel, advance, postpone or substitute any scheduled sailings, itinerary or port-of-call without notice. Windjammer may, but is not obligated to, substitute another vessel for sailing and cannot be liable for loss to passengers by reason of such cancellation, advancement, postponement or substitution. The Captain's judgment on any action or inaction is considered final. Reservations are subject to change in the event of a full ship charter.

Customer Service, Manager
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, Ltd.

From my reading, the letter of response appears to cite factors leading to the problem

(1) “Windjammer was given minimal notice from the ship owners and operators of the changes and we in turn did not have the luxury of time to advise passengers prior to sailing” and

(2) "Windjammer has the unfettered right to cancel, advance, postpone or substitute any scheduled sailings, itinerary or port-of-call without notice.

The first argument would give one the impression that Windjammer employs the services of distinctly separated ship owner/operators. In fact, the Burke family owns the entire operation and all entities share office spaces. For documentation see Henry v. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, 851 So. 2d 731; 2003 Fla. App. LEXIS 7491(Fla. 3rd DCA. 2003). An excerpt from that case follows:

The court found FANTOME, like the vessel in question, is a member of the Windjammer Fleet, which is operated by several Florida corporations all based at the same Miami Beach office and run and owned by a single family. Although the vessel is owned by a Panamanian corporation, the corporation was utilizing funds in Florida bank accounts, the ship’s employee files were maintained in Miami, the captains of each vessel reported solely to the family owners in the Miami office, all decisions regarding the ship’s itineraries, and coordination of maintenance and repairs were directed by the Miami headquarters, all the communication equipment was in Miami, the various foreign corporations created for each vessel were in fact owned by the same family operating out of Florida, and there were no corporate agents located in any foreign countries. Additionally, the fleet’s advertising, reservations, and sales were handled by Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, operating out of Miami. The court noted that the Supreme Court in Rhoditis stressed the need to look beyond corporate formalities to examine both the ship’s and the shipowner’s operational contacts with the United States to effectuate the liberal purposes of the Jones Act. Thus, a court must look beyond the "facade" of the operation and consider the real nature of the operation and the contacts with the United States. The court found that while the facts that the vessel did not sail in American waters nor enter U.S. ports were significant in the "base of operations" analysis, these factors were not determinative, and the shipowner’s substantial contacts with the United States were sufficient to establish that the vessel’s true base of operations was Miami Beach, Florida. Thus, the court found it would be reasonable to apply United States law even though the ships never entered a United States port.

Corporate facades notwithstanding, lack of notification time does not seem reasonable
The second argument has merit if one accepts that Windjammer can drastically change the itinerary at will and the customer therefore has no recourse. Two schools to thought seem applicable in this case: (1) let the buyer beware), and (2) what are the expectation of the reasonable man (man used here in the generic sense).

Windjammer promised the following.
"Cruise aboard Windjammer’s freighter-passenger ship and visit a huge selection of Caribbean Islands ─ from the Bahamas all the way down the archipelago to Trinidad. What a trip! In addition to island hopping, you’ll get to meet up with all four of Windjammer’s tall ships, as the Grace delivers her monthly supplies."

Our cruise started in Freeport took us as far as St Maarten and we visited four islands of interest (Dominican Republic, Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and St Maarten). The results fit the buyer criteria but fall well short of the expectation of a reasonable man.

Sea worthiness also has applies to this matter. Seaworthiness under American law is an "absolute, non-delegable, and continuing" duty of the ship owner to provide a vessel that is seaworthy to the passengers and crew. The standard of seaworthiness is not perfection, but reasonable fitness: not a ship that will weather every conceivable storm or withstand every imaginable peril of the sea, but a vessel reasonably suitable for her intended service. This is a duty on the part of the ship owner to furnish a vessel appurtenances, and crew, which are reasonably fit for use. Seaworthiness can best be defined by looking to see what Courts have considered unseaworthy. There is a substantial amount of case law that has defined what has in fact made the vessel or her crew unseaworthy.

We sailed with the starboard engine belching soot and the port engine marginally operational owing to a serious shaft-bearing problem. Both engineering issues were of longstanding.

According to reports, a month long yard period has corrected the engineering problems. Consequently, I cannot, in all honestly, recommend against booking passage on Amazing Grace if one exercises due diligence and metaphorically puts the Windjammer’s sales staff through the wringer. Amazing Grace is a grand old ship with none of the amenities or pretense of large cruise ships. The crew provides great service, and the ship has the “potential” to provide a great adventure.

I only wish we had benefited fully from that capability and Windjammer had made Amazing Grace reasonably suitable for the intended purpose.

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