The fall of the Flying Cloud, and Captain Burke’s dream

Something a little different this week – just to show that there are things I can write about that aren’t Freeper-oriented:

Back in the 90s, I only had one vacation dream – to go on a Windjammer Barefoot Tour.

This company had a small fleet of tall ships, and they weren’t the kind of place to wear a tux for dinner.

They were the kind of cruise where they had a “Pirate Night”, and you weren’t really sure if they were play-acting.

They were the kind of ships that had all the passengers moon the “Foo-foo ships” as they sailed past the 15-deck-high  monstrosities, fire the windjammer’s signal cannon at them as a literal parting shot, then repair to the deck bar for a rum swizzle or ten.

They were the kind of ships that could cozy up to islands and coves that the cruise ships couldn’t get within a nautical mile of.

But before I could scrape up the cash, two things happened:

The S.V. Fantome four-master from the fleet was lost with all crew in a hurricane, and suddenly, you couldn’t book online any more.

I didn’t know it, but the founder, Captain Burke, had retired and left his kids to run the business – into the ground.

And they did – with a vengeance.

The Flying Cloud:







Beautiful, no?


The flying cloud as of 2009:





And if that wasn’t bad enough, Captain Burke’s marvelous, whimsical, outrageous Florida home castle burned to the ground (he was in a nursing home by then)






The story of how it all came tumbling down is here:

(a long read, but SO worth it!)

This story had everything.  A far beyond colourful patriarch, scheming brothers and sisters, draining of company coffers for personal use – a true-life “Dallas” series with tall ships instead of oil wells. Someone should really make this story into a movie.


The takeaway?


All flesh is grass?  Best laid plans of mice and men? Preen over that house/car/wardrobe as much as you like – in 50 years (or less) it’ll all be gone, either crumbled to ashes, or sold to someone who neither knows nor cares to know about you?

Or the old standby – entropy increases.

But damn, it must have been fun while it lasted!

(footage below is of the S.V. Fantome before the hurricane sank it)

My humble apologies – the footage below was taken on the Fantome’s sister ship, the S.V. Polynesia, which was sold several times after the dissolution of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.


A infomercial for Windjammer including the perky hostess holding forth in the now-underwater Fantome, and a surprisingly young-looking Captain Burke:



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33 thoughts on “The fall of the Flying Cloud, and Captain Burke’s dream

  1. montag47 says:

    Interesting story, and a metaphor for American business today–suck out the money, neglect the revenue-producing assets and then bullshit the customers, hide the cash on the Isle of Man, etc.

    Properly run, that business probably would have lasted a long, long time. They had a sure-fire thing–dedicated return customers. The proof of that is when Windjammers officially went down the tubes in April, 2008, a consortium of their customers went in together on ship purchases and started Island Windjammers in 2009, and they’re still going, with new return customers and their share of good reviews. If the Burkes hadn’t been pirates toward their own customers, they’d still be going today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tommy T says:

      True – and while Captain Burke did let his kids start plundering the business while he was still running it, at least he kept the ships afloat.
      Like I said – someone should make a movie of this.


  2. A sad tale indeed…great memories o’ what once was, though – it was bloody marvellous!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pluffmud says:

    A depressing story in many ways. As one who enjoyed four of the ships (including the ill-fated Fantome), it seems like just a horrible waste.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gilligan says:

    I worked on the butchering of the Portuguese ship argus to become Polynesia. She was made almost unsailable. Mike Burke was a crook. They left divers to drown on fantome during initial voyage of argus/Polynesia. The crew was poisoned by bad food when refrigeration failed and water tanks were polluted by overflowing sewage. Never paid us. Only got home after intervention from us govt. fantomes crew was left to die in a hurricane

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gilligan says:

      At least argus/Polynesia is back in Portugal with her sister ships, where she belongs

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joe Danko says:

      I suggest you read the book about the last voyage of the fantome. “The ship and the storm” by Jim Carrier.
      We were on her for the final voyage and disembarked in belise before she left to weather out the storm on the lee side of Roatan island. They were not left to die, but there were many failures by Burke that may have saved the ship and their crew.


      • Michael D. Storey says:

        A boat the size of Fantome, with her limited speed and shallow draft and rounded hull was in dangerous waters, even on a calm day, in the western end of the Caribbean. She should have avoided being there. There was just no way to get out of town quick enough if bad weather was even a week away.
        One man’s opinion.
        I sailed her in 1973 and 1974 as part of the deck crew

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Marc Linsey says:

    It was an interesting time. I was on her when she went into the reef off Virgin Gorda in 1975. The stories the crew told about the ship and the companyseemed unbelievable, but turns out most of them were true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cj says:

      We were married on that ship off of Salt Island back in 1981

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hobert Shy says:

        The wife and I sailed on the Fantome three times. On our first voyage the Capt was a little bloke from the Isle of Wight. The next two times were with Capt. Guyan. For the life of me I can’t remember the first Captain’s name but I heard that he was fired when h got drunk t a company party and urinated on the Boss lady’s feet. That sounds like something he would do. If any one can remember him let me know. Those three trips were the best vacations I ever had.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Gropp says:

      Hi Marc,

      I was there with you that night when it went onto the reef. I was 16 years old at the time and was sailing with my parents. If possible, I’d like to correspond with you about your memories during that stormy evening. My email is

      Mark Gropp


      • Michael Storey says:

        After 66 years of sailing I can say that the longer that sailing dreams last, the more likely that they will come to grief. Do remember that Michael Burke allowed people with no experience on to sailing boats, 100 to 300 feet in length, and showed them things that they had never seen before, at a price that they could afford. In 1973 & 1974, when I was part of the crew of the Fantome, I would see groups of young people who could only afford to sail if they all got into a Maverick and drove from their home state of Ohio, or wherever they were from, and got out in Miami, and relied on Chalk’s to get them to the greatest vacation of their lives. No one doin that today. we should be pleased that it happened, and feel inspired to not let opportunities whiz by.


      • Roger Shefford says:

        I was chief engineer on the flying cloud
        In 1989 was anybody on the ship in that year? Please get in touch
        Roger shefford


      • Marc Linsey says:

        I have emailed you. It was a memorable evening, and few days after that. I went back there about 23 years ago. Aubry’s Big Bamboo building was there, but it was closed. I talked to some locals that said he had moved off the island.


  6. Joe Danko says:

    I remember Capt. Guyan well. If it weren’t for him we would have been left on the Honduras shore during Hurricane Mitch. He insisted on picking us up and taking us to Belize for evacuation. The company said we were not their responsibility until we boarded.
    Fare thee well Captain.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ron mitchell says:

    My wife and I sailed on the S/V Flying Cloud in 1990. Remembering that trip today I searched for the Flying Cloud and was really sad as I read of the end of “Barefoot Cruises”

    Liked by 1 person

    • roger shefford says:

      I was chief engineer on the flying cloud in 1990.I was surprised they were allowed to sail it any were as she was a complete wreck down below,not been into dry dock for 7 years

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marc Linsey says:

        I was told after they pulled it off the reef in 74/75 that they just patched it, pumped it out and kept going because they could not sail it anywhere that had a suitable dry dock.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. L says:

    I sailed Flying Cloud in July 1973. A propeller shaft problem off Martinique almost sank her and we were towed in. Anybody else out there on that fateful voyage?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jim c says:

    I sailed on many of the fleets ships many times. It was indeed a unique experience to say the least. Rum swizzles, topless passengers, sleeping on Deck, visiting Island so small that I rented the police chief’s car on one of them. Unbelievable memories for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Kathy Myer says:

    The pictures above breaks my heart. My husband and I went on a 10 day cruise to the BVI on the SV Flying Cloud with Captain Adrianne at the helm back in the 90s. We had so much fun on this casual yet classy voyage. RIP SV Flying Cloud 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Rikki G says:

    I was lucky to have sailed on The Flying Cloud in the late 1980’s. It was a fabulous, fun adventure throughout the BVI. Someone told me years ago that the SV Fantome, which was sadly lost with so many crew members on board, was the original 4 mast SV Flying Cloud. Can anyone clarify this for me?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michael D Storey says:

      Fantome was always Fantome
      She had a sister ship

      Liked by 2 people

      • Rikki G says:

        Thank you. I’m still confused. The photo in the article show a decimated SV Flying Cloud, so did a hurricane destroy her, too?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Michael D Storey says:

        This is difficult
        She was not deep and she was round bottomed
        She may have lost electricity and therefore steerage and gotten between waves sideways and her rig then would sway back and forth until something broke and a mast could have puncture he hull
        She had no watertight doors
        Loss of electricity is also in her case loss of bilge pumps
        I feel that this is like saying “what did your husband look like while he was having his stroke ‘
        I do not like this kind of speculation

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tommy T says:

        ” The photo in the article show a decimated SV Flying Cloud, so did a hurricane destroy her, too?”

        No. Neglect destroyed her. She sat and decayed in that berth while people fought over her ownership, until there was nothing left to own.


  12. Daphne Hill says:

    I sailed on the Flying Cloud in 1969 (or perhaps it was 1970) from Martinique to Grenada on a Windjammer Barefoot Cruise. It was on that trip that the Captain told all the passengers on the first morning to remove our watches as we would not be needing them. My husband loved the idea so much, he never wore a watch again except when scuba diving! In fact, it was on that trip that he said, ” The next time we do this, let us do it ourselves.” It took us a little more that a decade, but finally we learned how to handle a sailing yacht and started chartering in the Caribbean (mainly in the BVI’s) for years until he passed away in 2008. We never sailed the Windwards again, but what a memorable time we had on the Flying Cloud!
    P.S. Our Captain was from Minnesota,and the name Burke sounds familiar, but I am not positive that it was him. Does anyone know the hometown of Captain Burke?


  13. Tommy T says:

    Updated with more video…


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