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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

March 9, 2013
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.
March 9, 2013
March 9, 2013
Fred, you did much for the Santa Barbara Non-profit community over so many years. You were a true man of the sea and a pioneer in eco-tourism.
I will cherish the many memories of the old Condor days with SBCC and NOAA fundraising. Pescatores whale watching, our trip to China and the many gatherings on the hill- Fair Winds and Following Seas..
March 9, 2013
March 9, 2013
I was one of Fred's original "galley girls" when he opened Sea Landing at the Harbor underneath the John Dory Restaurant many years ago. He was a fine man & will be forever missed in our beautiful city & Harbor for all he has done & accomplished here. His legacy will live on & he will always be remembered. He may not be resting in peace but kicking up his heels on the other side. LOVE
March 9, 2013
March 9, 2013
Fred you are a Marine in every sense of the word. Once a Marine you will always remain one. General Fred Lopez will admonish anyone who says otherwise. I knew you enjoyed acting occasionally but until I read your obituary I never knew you played a musical instrument.. The entire world loved you and we only wish we were there for you when needed;
March 8, 2013
March 8, 2013
Fred, you are my friend, mentor, and surrogate Santa Barbara father! You always believed in me, even when I did not. Your generosity, free spirit, and zest for life is permanently ingrained in everyone who was fortunate enough to know you. I love you with all my heart and soul and I will never forget all that you have done and taught me. Rest in peace my captain!
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Recent Tributes
March 7
March 7
I’ve been remembering great times, and a beautiful wolf that was a member of the family a long time ago.
  I hadn’t realized the anniversary was near, but it must have been in my subconscious somewhere.
 Miss you, Fred!
March 7, 2022
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!
March 7, 2021
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!
Recent stories

Happy Birthday, Morning Coffee

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!

Just Fannntassstic!

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!


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