Another small cruise operator folds as COVID-19 shutdown continues

Feb 2, 2021

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Add Sail Windjammer to the list of cruise companies that are shutting down for good due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The one-ship firm, which operated a historic, nearly-100-year-old sailing vessel called Mandalay, has posted a notice on its website and social media pages saying it’s out of business.

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“We cannot see a path forward for our operation,” the company said in the notice. “COVID-19 has been a devastation to our business that we don’t see a way to recover from.”

In the notice, Sail Windjammer noted that Mandalay — a large, three-masted schooner that can hold up to 72 passengers — recently suffered damage that needed repair, adding to the company’s financial burdens.

“We gathered all repair and maintenance estimates, costs and our financial position to evaluate how we could move forward financially,” the company said. “We have tried everything possible to figure out how to continue this past week.”

The 72-passenger Sail Windjammer. (Photo courtesy of Sail Windjammer/Facebook)

Sail Windjammer added that “not qualifying for any small business loans along with 10 months of no income has crippled our operations.”

Like many cruise companies, Sail Windjammer hadn’t operated any departures since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

First unveiled in 1923, Mandalay has a storied history that made it popular with history lovers and sailing fans alike. It originally was constructed as the private yacht Hussar (IV) for one of the wealthiest couples in the world, the American financier E. F. Hutton and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Built in Denmark and featuring a famously hardy, wrought iron hull, it was one of the fastest yachts in the world in its heyday. It broke the trans-Atlantic speed record for a yacht on its first crossing of the Atlantic, completing the voyage in 10 days and 21 hours.

Hutton and Post only owned the vessel for about a decade. They sold it in 1934 to a Norwegian shipping magnate after upgrading to an even larger yacht, the Hussar (V).

Of note, the latter vessel also went on to a career as a passenger ship and is still in operation today (or, at least, it was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down all cruising worldwide). The Hussar (V) today is known as Sea Cloud, a 136-passenger sailing ship in the fleet of Sea Cloud Cruises.

The original Hussar (IV) — renamed Vema by its new Norwegian owners — would go on to quite a bit of adventure before settling down to a life of passenger cruising in the 1980s.

During World War II, its Norwegian owners donated it to the American war effort, and it was used for a time by the U.S. Coast Guard to patrol coastal waters. It also served as a training vessel for the U.S. Merchant Marine.

From that unusual detour, it went on to survive a period of abandonment off Staten Island before being salvaged, and it later was turned into a research vessel for Columbia University. For nearly three decades — from 1953 to 1981 — it travelled the world doing all sorts of maritime research.

The vessel only became a passenger ship in 1982, when it was refitted for pleasure cruising and renamed Mandalay. It initially sailed for a company called Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, which went out of business in 2008. It’s been sailing for Sail Windjammer since 2013. In recent years, it has been best known for cruises around the Grenadines.

At least six other cruise operators — four in Europe, one in the U.S. and one in India — have announced over the past year that they are going out of business or filing for the equivalent of bankruptcy due to financial troubles related to the coronavirus outbreak. Like Sail Windjammer, most are very small cruise companies. But the list includes Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which had been the second-largest cruise brand in the U.K.

“There aren’t words to describe what our Sail Windjammer family is feeling,” Sail Windjammer said in the notice it posted to its website. “We are heartbroken and crushed. The feeling you got when you stepped foot on the Mandalay is how we all felt arranging each cruise. The serenity and peace while sailing on her is a feeling unmatched and will be cherished forever.”

The company didn’t say what would happen to Mandalay.

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Featured image of courtesy of Sail Windjammer/Facebook

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