Florida tourism entrepreneur Charles J. Kropke is planning to bring back freewheeling sail cruises through a new version of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. Kropke has purchased the defunct company’s three-masted Mandalay and hopes to operate his first weekly Caribbean cruise in May. The new Windjammer Sailing Adventures is based on the heritage of the old company started by Capt. Mike Burke in 1947, Kropke said. “Hopefully we’ll fill a lost niche in cruising,” he said.
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises went out of business in 2007 after several failed attempts to revive the company by Burke family members. The Mandalay, a 236-foot barquentine, was purchased at auction by Fiddi Angermeyer, who operates Angermeyer Cruises in the Galapagos Islands. Kropke said Angermeyer restored the ship in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but he has since moved it to the Pacific Coast of Panama as work continues. It will be moved later this month through the Panama Canal to a new homeport in the Caribbean, which he declined to identify, saying final approval is pending.
The new company is a sister to Dragonfly Expeditions, which operates ecological and cultural tours throughout the Caribbean and South Florida. Kropke serves as CEO of Windjammer Sailing Adventures and Uwe G. Doeringer is chairman of the board. Cindy Greenway has been named president of Windjammer Sailing Adventures and Sylvester Dzomeku is vice president of operations.
Kropke said the Mandalay previously carried 72 passengers, but the numbers of berths will be reduced to 64. Work will include installing a new air-conditioning system. But the style of the ship won’t change much. “We’re keeping most of the tradition, but we’ll keep a much tighter rein on the upkeep of the ships mechanically,” Kropke said. Mandalay was built in 1923 for financier E. F. Hutton and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Despite all its troubles at the end, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises through the years gained a legion of wildly devoted fans, who still keep in touch through message boards and reunions on other ships. Kropke hopes to reach those cruisers and new ones, at this point using social media including a Facebook page.
“Windjammer did not die because it was more than a company. It was a culture,” Kropke’s letter on Facebook reads. “And it was, like the dream itself, a fragile culture; one that had a rare balance of fun, adventure, informality and awe. One that would-be imitators never understood or worse, never valued.” Kropke said he bought pictures, furniture and memorabilia at the 2008 bankruptcy auction and plans to establish a Windjammer Barefoot Cruises museum at company headquarters in Coral Gables, Fla.
In the Facebook letter, Kropke said the new company plans to keep several Windjammer traditions alive, including Rum Swizzles, crab races, story time, sleeping on deck and the playing of Amazing Grace. He also said several former Windjammer employees and crew members will return, including Duane Southe as captain of the Mandalay and Brian Bishop as chief engineer.
Another company, Island Windjammers, was started by and for fans of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises in 2009, operating the 12-passenger schooner Diamant out of Grenada.