This memorial website was created in the loving memory of Captain Fred Benko, who died peacefully in his sleep on March 7th, 2013. His wife Hiroko and family were at his side. Fred was a true Renaissance man: a talented musician who loved theater and performed with the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, photographer, generous benefactor and member of numerous non-profit boards and clubs, and as founder of the SEA Landing and ownder of the Condor Express, a pioneer in the realm of local sportfishing and later, whale watching. Fred was a fixture in the community and will be greatly missed.

A celebration of Fred's life was held on Friday, March 15th at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara Zoo, or the Santa Barbara Visiting Nurse and Hospice. 

Friends are welcome to leave a tribute below or share your favorite story about Fred by clicking on the stories tab above. Be sure to revisit the site as photos, videos, stories, and tributes will be regularly updated.
Fred in the News:
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum establishes Benko Memorial Fund (Noozhawk)
Blue whale named in honor of Fred Benko - view story & photo (.pdf)
• Santa Barbara Independent: In Memoriam: Fred Benko by Hillary Hauser
View KEYT TV's nice segment on Fred's passing
Noozhawk: Capt. Fred Benko, Founder of Condor Cruises, Dies
Santa Barbara News-Press feature article on Fred's passing (text available in His Life section)
• Santa Barbara Independent - Obituary: Fred Benko
Comments & tributes posted on the Condor Express Facebook page

Posted by Mike Davidson on March 7, 2022
I was thinking about you today my friend. We would have been having the best of times in the wheelhouse over the last month. Weather has not been like it has in such along time. I miss riding the waves with you and thank you for being the Grandfather I never had! Hope your soul is sailing well where ever it is!

Steady as she goes my friend!
Posted by Eric Zimmerman on March 7, 2021
I can't believe it's been 8 years since your passing. Your presence on this earth, and especially in Santa Barbara, is missed every single day! The good news is the Condor Express is still going strong and just retuned to Santa Barbara this weekend with four brand new, eco-friendly, engines! I hope you are resting in peace my friend!
Posted by Ron Hart on March 7, 2020
Some friends are never forgotten and Fred is that for me. Just the other day I swear he was walking with me on the golf course . At least I was thinking about him at the time and wishing he was there with me. Few people have had as much impact on my life.
Posted by Jeanne Keatinge on July 6, 2019
I can't imagine you being anything less than thrilled if you were here to celebrate your eighty years since your birth with all your friends and family. Happy memories to you and all the friends who still think of you so often. Seeing Hiroko honoring your legacy is a good reminder to do as you did by bringing joy to others.
Posted by Brown David on March 7, 2019
Thinking of you, Fred.
Posted by Brown David on March 7, 2018
It would be great to hear that booming voice again! I miss you, Fred.
Posted by Mike Davidson on August 7, 2017
Was thinking about you today and I do always. When ever there is something in my life I have never done or the next learning level I think of you. I always challenge my self because of what you showed me and the love, time we shared. Thank you! Miss you!
Posted by Kat Stephenson on April 20, 2017
I did 3 consecutive years on private chartering the Condor under my Charter name "The Giggling Katfish" I went to Turners Tackle Shop off Vanowen and Tampa today. Dan informed me today Capt. Fred Benko had passed away. It made me sad. I remember chartering his Condor Express back in 1987, 1988 and 1999. Capt Fred was super friendly and generous with making my charters by far the most fun and memorable times. I heard my Katfish charters were rumored by the Deck hands and galley cook that my charter was the most fun they ever had. I pray Capt. Benko has had a peaceful time in Heaven and I wish him all the best always in the afterlife. I am sure God winked when he caught his prized Angelfish.
Posted by Brown David on March 7, 2017
Fred, good times with are among the best of memories! Fair winds.
Posted by Brown David on July 6, 2016
Every time I set foot on a vessel at sea, you are there, Fred. Your love of life, your generosity and your enthusiasm for all things ocean will always be with me. Fair winds...
Posted by Ron Hart on March 8, 2016
Still missing you my friend and all of epic trips we shared. I know my life is richer for having had you in it!
Posted by Eric Zimmerman on March 7, 2016
I miss you old buddy. I think of you every day. Hiroko has given me the task to go through your collection of photos and slides you have taken over your 40+ years out on the water. It will take me a while, but I look forward to the project and seeing your smiling face time and time again!
I hope you are resting in peace, but partying hard with all your old friends and family.
Posted by Eric Zimmerman on July 6, 2015
On this day of your birth I/we remember how special you were to so many. May your amazing spirit live forever in all the hearts you touched while on this earth. Happy birthday my friend.
Posted by Joan Kirkpatrick on March 7, 2015
Forever missed ~ Forever loved.  ~~~JP
Posted by ingra... on July 7, 2014
Captain Fred Benko was one of the MOST WONDERFUL men of the SEA. I was ever so privileged to be on a special whale watch on a May 19th some years ago. The Captain stated it to be his best in (30) years. How lucky was I ??? We were out there in the SB Channel and got to observe the "Bubble Net" feeding behavior. C O O L, and then some. The juvenile males of the pinnipeds were out to sea avoiding the OLDER males in a deep RUT. The SEABIRDs had a big Partay too. I shall never forget that special day in which I shared with Captain Benko. He was a kind and informative gent. All of us in ACS love him for certain to this very day! In Loving Memory & GRATITUDE.
Posted by Ron Charbonneau on April 16, 2013
Fred always made me welcome during whale watching trips that were always memorable. His folksy comment in the midst of a pod of 50 Blue Whales, "I feel like a blind dog in a meat factory." made me smile. Fred's infectious laughter will always ring on the bridge while his spirit lives on in the whale watching trips on the Santa Barbara Channel!
Posted by Merit McCrea on March 28, 2013
Fred, thanks for showing us how to do what we do.
Posted by Astrid Scholz on March 18, 2013
The oceans just lost some of its more charismatic mega fauna. I have fond memories of Fred on the board of PMCC, especially the evening in a bar in Newport, OR, where he and another board members formed a shield to protect me from an angry fisherman.
Posted by Caroline Gibson on March 16, 2013
Oh Fred, I have fond and funny memories of pool matches in smoky bars as you helped navigate PMCC through the early years... And Condor trips to follow. Lots of bulls**t and hilarity. And 5 days diving looking for white sharks and riding out the potato patch with fabulous friends, unforgettable. Thank you.
Posted by Nansie Chapman on March 16, 2013
The number of friends that came to your celebration of life Fred is confirmation of the amazing gift you were to all of us. You will be missed and always remembered by the contributions you made to the Santa Barbara community and the joy you brought to your friends and family.
Posted by Jeanne Keatinge on March 16, 2013
Fred was an integral part of my introduction to the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera and left us with so many great memories. Always generous with sharing his love of the sea with all of us, he hosted cast cruises on the Condor many times. His voice was a joy to listen to and the support he showed to the organization was amazing, with Hiroko always at his side. Sail on!
Posted by Lee Luria on March 15, 2013
Fred, you are a local hero and will be missed by everyone whose lives you have touched. Eli and my anniversary party on the Condor was a highlight in our lives, not to be forgotten! You made it a memorable event. I know wherever you are you're having a wonderful time!
Posted by April Montoya on March 14, 2013
May the waves rise to meet you,May the wind be always at your back,May the sun shine warm upon your face,The rain fall soft upon your ocean,And,until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand. Rest in Peace Fred! You will be missed.
Posted by Peter Cantle on March 14, 2013
Rest easy, Skipper. The times spent in the wheelhouse with you, Ron and Matt were some of the best ever for me and my boys. I'll always be grateful to have known you and to call you a friend.
Posted by JD DeLong on March 14, 2013
Fred, you are the best. Rest in peace. JD
Posted by Mary Katherine Littman on March 13, 2013
I was a teacher in the Los Marineros program and Fred would come to Cleveland to give his whale presentation. What came across so profoundly was his deep love and respect for all sea creatures. My fondest memory is when we came upon two humpbacks who breached over 100 times next to the Condor as we moved beside them. Photos from this day were part of his presentation for years afterward.
Posted by Joel Greenberg on March 13, 2013
Fred's love of fishing and the sea was highly infectious. As the quintessential passenger, I was on board the Condor soon after its 1979 launch and Fred was the main reason I kept coming back for more. Every fishing trip was a whale watching trip, a bird watching trip and -- oh yeah -- we always caught fish. Thank you, Fred, for all wonderful lore you shared with all of us!
Posted by Kaye Walters on March 12, 2013
Fred, you’ve been a friend & client to me since the 80s. I will miss our long lunches together talking about everything from business to boats and sea adventures. I watched you turn your dream to build a new & better whale watching boat into a reality. I had many good times on both old & new Condors, and it was a joy when you were at the helm narrating the adventure. Arrr matey! Love Ya.
Posted by IRV GRISBECK on March 12, 2013
My heart is heavy learning of Fred's death He was a visionary for the industry and wasn't given the true credit he deserved.

you will be remembred
Posted by Frank Ursitti on March 12, 2013
Although distant associates, I grew up around the waterfront amidst stories of Fred. He will forever remain iconic for his entrepreneurial savvy, his love for the ocean and his approach to life. Godspeed Fred, on this your next adventure...
Posted by K Collins on March 12, 2013
There were many of us undergrads at UCSB that worked through college for Fred. I'll always remember his quick wit, charm, and ability to sell anything! Really a neat guy and an inspiration to so many.
Posted by Peter Taborsky on March 11, 2013
In 1979, as an awkward 12 year old kid I started working for Fred. For the next 18 years I worked at Sea Landing on several of the boats he owned. Fred showed me patience, kindness and always encouraged me. Fred always had a positive attitude. Though he had seen thousands of them, each fish over the rail or whale spouting genuinely excited him. Years later I was a Captain for him on the originalC
Posted by Claire Fackler on March 11, 2013
The community of Santa Barbara, as well as the Santa Barbara Channel are all better off due to the presence of Fred Benko. My thoughts and prayers go out to Fred's family and all of his friends. He will certainly be missed, yet his legacy lives on.
Posted by Michael Finucan on March 11, 2013
We worked together at the beginning of the first Condor days and I worked with you through the beginnings of the first trips out to San Miguel Island in the late 70's and I always will remember your love of the Sea and the feeling of excitement that you expressed. As your friend I will miss you, but I am sure that you will be riding the waves with the whales and dolphins you so dearly love
Posted by Therese Vannier on March 11, 2013
"Fred, we met tagging and monitoring Blue Whales in the Santa Barbara Channel (1993). You said that "in marine biology, even the most ridiculous jobs are worth doing." You said that *my job was a very important one and that orange was your favourite colour." We laughed the entire week about that comment. Cheers to good times at sea and ridiculous tasks, my friend. *whale poop collector
Posted by Barry Rusetos on March 11, 2013
Fred-so many things should be said for the time you were with us-your
work in the community and sharing your love of nature and the sea. You will always be rememberd as the heart and soul of our Pobre's riding group with your singing and joking around the campfire. You are
profoundly missed. Semper Fi
Posted by cynthia woo on March 11, 2013
Twas a great privilege to have you as life long friend & share the blessings of the Santa Barbara lifestyle, on water & shore. Thru life's trials, you were always there to say a kind word, give hugs, make us laugh & show the meaning of service, hospitality, leadership & entertainment which lifted spirits. Hope you are with the dolphins going over the rainbow bridge at Pt. Concepcion now.
Posted by Flor Oropeza on March 10, 2013
"Mr,Benco l took care of you the last five months with love,respect,dignity and were a wonderful,especially a kind man. I remember the good moments,we always talked alot, watched movies, had dinner, l spend all day with you.i will miss you.Rest in peace my captain"
Posted by Brown David on March 10, 2013
Fred was an amazing man, a wonderful advocate for the ocean and a great friend. It was a privilege to know him, and I will never forget him.
Posted by ingra... on March 10, 2013
The most magical times on the sea took place on The Condor. Most trips I joined in with ACS. Several years ago we were blessed to be out in the SB Channel surrounded by humpbacks doing all that they are famous for. Captain Fred was so excited and claimed that it was the best sighting in 30 years. It was an honor to join in his expert journies and we will all miss him. Blessings to you.
Posted by Phil Poirier on March 9, 2013
I was lucky enough to meet Ferd and his wife in Tanzania on a photo safari back in 2005. Though I only knew him for those two weeks him and his wife invited me to come out and vist them at there house in Santa Barbra. I was unable to make that trip but I alwas knew it would have been fun. Fred seemed to be very outgoing and hospitable. I'm know he will be missed by many. RIP
Posted by Chuck Rennie on March 9, 2013
After Fred built the Condor, he ran all of the whale watches and the island trips for us at SBMNH. I've never met a betterr skipper or a finer human. Fred was bright, gracious, generous, kind, and a wonderful raconteur. He was a pillar of the community, His is an enormous loss; he cannot be replaced. Fair winds and following seas, old friend.
Posted by Mike Davidson on March 9, 2013
RIP Capt. Fred Benko...You were the Grandfather I never had, you were my best friend, you showed me a world that many never get to see, you showed me how to become a man. The day I set foot on your boat at the age of 12 I was home, a home away from home that shaped who I am today. I will never forget the experiences, the stories and the laughter. Steady as she goes my dear friend...
Posted by Nancy Johnke on March 9, 2013
Fred-you made our Los Marineros program "zing" with the friendly, knowledgable trips you made available to us. Many fifth and sixth grade students at Franklin Elementary will always carry a part of you in their hearts.
Posted by Tony Nichols on March 9, 2013
My heart is heavy and grateful. Fred was an impressive man that left a legacy of appreciation that is indelible. His love of fish, cetaceans, and people will be remembered forever. I was crazy/lucky to have Fred on board when I saw my first blue whale in '86. I dedicate this year of volunteer contribution to him and PROMISE to name/call my 1st Newport sighting "Fred".
Posted by Geoff Grow on March 9, 2013
I first met Fred in 2004 at slideshow that he was presenting. I remember Fred had an amazing collection of marine photos from his years in the Channel. Fred inspired me to learn more about the Channel and its wildlife. It is, in large part, because of him I volunteer for the marine sanctuary. Thanks Fred -- I will miss you.
Posted by Michael Hanrahan on March 9, 2013
When you stepped into the wheelhouse on Condor with Fred Benko, you knew you were in the company of a man who truly loved the sea. Thousands of children from our area have Fred to thank for taking them safely aboard CONDOR and CONDOR EXPRESS, introducing them to the endangered whales here - future advocates for the world he loved most. Open water from here, Fred. Let her rip!
Posted by Shauna Bingham on March 9, 2013
Fred means a lot to many of us and he will be missed but never forgotten - he has left a legacy! I truly value the days I shared with Fred out on the ocean. He possessed a genuine enthusiasm and love of the sea that we all sensed and were drawn to. He founded whale watching in Santa Barbara and was the brainchild behind the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteer program.
Posted by ben short on March 9, 2013
Fred, - you were a true friend who showed us the beauty of Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands, Cabo, and Bellingham. Catching fish and enjoying them that evening, fireworks from your deck, Pobres, Pescatores, Los Fiesteros and swapping sea stories. You were a real gentleman who did so much for the community. We admire all that you have done and are proud to be your friend. Ben and Jef
Posted by bob perry on March 9, 2013
"You see those white rocks?" Fred would announce, when running the boat along the seacliffs of Santa Cruz Island en route to his beloved Painted Cave "the Government is now spending millions to determine why the sea birds always seem to roost on the white rocks." His wonderful, old school sense of humor will be missed.
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Recent Tributes
Posted by Mike Davidson on March 7, 2022
I was thinking about you today my friend. We would have been having the best of times in the wheelhouse over the last month. Weather has not been like it has in such along time. I miss riding the waves with you and thank you for being the Grandfather I never had! Hope your soul is sailing well where ever it is!

Steady as she goes my friend!
Posted by Eric Zimmerman on March 7, 2021
I can't believe it's been 8 years since your passing. Your presence on this earth, and especially in Santa Barbara, is missed every single day! The good news is the Condor Express is still going strong and just retuned to Santa Barbara this weekend with four brand new, eco-friendly, engines! I hope you are resting in peace my friend!
Posted by Ron Hart on March 7, 2020
Some friends are never forgotten and Fred is that for me. Just the other day I swear he was walking with me on the golf course . At least I was thinking about him at the time and wishing he was there with me. Few people have had as much impact on my life.
Recent stories

Happy Birthday, Morning Coffee

Shared by Mike Davidson on July 6, 2021
I first met Fred on a whale watching trip that I found out about through the Museum of Natural History.  Fred let me into the wheel house on the first trip and I was hooked.  I went home and that night typed a letter to Fred asking if I could help out on the boat during the summer, I was 12.  A few weeks later a letter arrived and it was on Condor letterhead.  I was excited and terrified at the same time.  He said, I could come out on the boat, the rest was history.  I started as a pinn-head and moved up to deckhand over the 10 plus years I worked on and off on the boat.  Some of the best years of my life, I could go on and on about the stories and adventures, people I met but here is a birthday story.

It was a foggy morning when I got to Sea Landing, checked with the office to see what the trips looked like that day and then down to the boat to get her ready.  I knew it was Fred's birthday and I always had his morning coffee ready for him in the wheel house (2 sugars and 1 cream) when he showed up.  I did not flip on the coffee machine that morning and headed to the engine room, checked all the fluids, fired up the generator, flipped over from shore power to the generator power.  Even though Fred completely trusted me in the engine room he always double checked because of the good captain he was.  He went up to the wheel house first as he always did and his coffee was not there.  I heard him say, "where is my dam coffee".  I smiled to myself and kinda hid from him.  He had just discovered the new business, Santa Barbara Roasting Company, oh the gallons of coffee we drank after the discovery.  What he did not know was I had gotten a large cup of his favorite coffee from there, had it sitting on the warm engine block of the starboard engine with a chocolate pastry and a card for 10 free cups of coffee, I wrote on the bag, Happy Birthday.

I was in the galley prepping it for the day and he came in and said, "Mike, no coffee, the machine is not even on."  I said I was sorry and flipped it on.  He was not happy with me and said something like you are getting lazy.  He preceded down to the engine room and I was hanging out on the engine deck waiting for him to find his B-Day present.  He popped his head out of the hatch,  smiled and said, "well, I expect a cup like this from now on, every morning."   I smiled, said ok and then he smiled again and went back down into the engine room.

Got the passengers onboard, threw lines with George and off we went.  Stored all the lines and headed up to the wheel house.  Fred was kinda quiet and I was like, what's up?  He turned to me,  smiled again and said, "you want a raise?"  I said yes and we had a great day of whale watching!  Over the many years after that morning, almost every morning, we would grab each other coffee from the SB Roasting Company, it became our tradition.  I would ask the person working at the Roasting Company if Fred had been there yet because everyone remembered Fred and that would determine the coffee order.

Fred was the Grandfather I never had and the some of the best memories of my life were on that boat with him and all the others that came and went.  I would not be who I am today without that experience, without Fred.  Happy Birthday Fred!
Shared by Brown David on July 6, 2018

Miss you, Fred!


Just Fannntassstic!

Shared by Merit McCrea on March 27, 2013

When I first came to SEA Landing in 1975 as a 15yr old very eager fisherman Fred and Patty Benko were the owners of SEA Landing, a sport fishing landing that had a truly tiny wedge of an office under what is now Brophy’s.

Over the years I was Fred’s deck hand, a hired captain, and ultimately a party boat owner at SEA Landing. During that time some even earlier ‘Fred’ stories came to light.

Fred, an Ohio native, had enjoyed a meteoric rise as a salesman for Pfizer. He had managed to open Johns Hopkins, a market that had been previously closed to Pfizer. There was some mention of having had to smuggle a keg into the hospital break room, (actually this mention was the central theme of his story). Some few years later things changed for Fred at Pfizer, accounts were shifted and so forth. This is the first episode of what I think characterizes Fred’s dynamic life. When someone said ‘Carpe Diem,` Fred took it to heart in a way that is truly inspirational.

After this, Fred left corporate America with his family, including two young kids, Dody and Matt. They headed to California to do something truly different. Fred took his resources and doubled down on a small marine-scene business. This was his first self re-invention.

These early years included stories of folks with names like ‘Sideways Sam, a boat captain who invented novel dock approaches and landings. Boats included the Happy Day. This vessel was notorious because once when someone forgot to do the regular bilge pumping required and the engine hatch was lifted, the spinning shaft apparently flung an arc of spray skyward. This prompted a less than prescient crewman to call out “we’re sinking,” with the expected pandemonium resulting.

The first SEA Landing boat that I worked on as a deckhand was the sportfishing partyboat Hornet, which Fred owned. Even in these early days Fred saw the value in taking the public to see newly increasing numbers of migrating gray whales. He would schedule his small harbor cruise boat Shirley Ann, a vessel originally built as a rum-runner, to run special cruises beyond the harbor mouth to see these whales. Whale watching was a hit!

It wasn’t until about 1978 that Fred became Captain Fred. I had just become a captain myself a few months earlier at age nineteen. I was perhaps SEA Landing’s first ‘up-the-hawspipe’ captain, and Fred the second a couple of months later. Fred could now captain his boats himself. During that Summer Fred’s SEA Landing had reduced in fleet size to just the boats he owned there. The independent boats had all headed to San Diego to chase albacore. That summer proved to be one of the Landing’s best fishing summers ever. The following year Fred built the original Condor at Jay Peacock’s yard in Wilmington. It took just eight short months, a record. We crew came to call this boat, which was intended for the ½ day fishing trade, the “Lead Sled.” That was because this robust, all steel vessel simply slid through any weather that the Channel could throw at it. The Channel’s weather is notorious in its dynamic extremes. These include the ever placid waters of Eastern Santa Cruz Island and the ‘Cape Horn of the North,’ Point Conception.

The Landing enjoyed a continuing renaissance during that time. In 1977 or so the Landing’s base of operation had moved to a new larger facility by the launch-ramp. This renaissance included Fred’s favorite, his whale watching trips, as well as a growing fleet of fishing boats that landed epic numbers of rockfish and bass for their clients. Guys like me captained these boats, the Condor, Hornet, Island Fox and Seahawk. In addition there were other boats that would come in seasonally and run from the landing, including Roy Hauser’s Truth, which was crewed by, among others, Glen Fritzler.

Fred was one of the most liberal mentors ever. When it came time for me to take the Condor to the boat yard in Los Angeles he informed me that I would be completely in charge of this and on my own. I was full of trepidation, this yard being far from home, new to me and I being only a couple of years out of high school actually. His words were “I trust your judgment completely,” and off I went. This quote and another Fred quote, “just fanntassstic,” resonate with me as the definitive Fred-isms. That’s how Fred was, the eternal optimist. He could find the silver lining in an apocalypse I believe. This was a key to his repetitive successes.

By about 1984 black clouds had gathered over Fred once again. The Landing completely reorganized, Roy Hauser and Glen Fritzler stepped up to take over the Landing’s operation and Fred provided the opportunity for his boat captains to become boat owners. Meanwhile Fred himself struggled to bring back the flagging whale-watch and fishing business that the Condor had. Though his hard work and steadfast leadership the Condor was put back on her feet and was steadily growing in popularity as a whale watch boat. Then Blue Whales showed up in the Channel. The new Captain Fred was BACK! He ultimately brought the Condor Express to the Channel. This was the first viable commercial passenger carrying high speed catamaran in the area. Its success has inspired many others to follow in this novel choice of vessel design.


What a Fannntassstic ride Captain Fred!