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 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 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 Eric Zimmerman on 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!
Page 2 of 2

Leave a Tribute

Recent Tributes
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.
Recent stories
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!


Blue whale named for Fred

Shared by John Calambokidis on March 16, 2013

Blue whale named in honor of Fred Benko

This distinctive blue whale was named “Fred Benko” by Cascadia Research in honor of Fred’s passion, devotion, and contribution to the appreciation of blue whales. This whale was chosen for Fred because of its frequent sightings in the Santa Barbara Channel going back many years and also sightings off Baja California, another area Fred like to go to fish. Originally given the much less colorful identification of CRC 1139 by Cascadia and BB#229 and CICI#590 by Mexican researchers, this whale has been positively identified over 30 times going back to the earliest identification in 1991. Sightings have been in the winter-spring in the southern Sea of Cortez and in the summers off California primarily in the Santa Barbara Channel, but as far south as San Diego and north to the Gulf of the Farallones.  With the frequent sightings in the Santa Barbara Channel starting in 1992 and through the 1990s and the early 2000s when Fred was frequently the captain of the Condor and then the Condor Express, there is no doubt that the two of them came across each other many times. Fred supported blue whale photo-identification research by inviting research on board the Condor and Condor Express to take photographs.

I fondly recall Fred’s help in his early research in the Santa Barbara Channel in the early 1990s when he would invite me to stop by the Condor so I could talk to the passengers (he would have the galley prepare food for me since he knew I often forgot to bring any on my trips). Fred always wanted to learn about the latest research on blue whales both to satisfy his own curiosity as well as to share with his passengers.  He would never miss a chance to host a gathering at his house to hear about the latest information. This whale will be particularly easy to follow because like Fred, this whale has a distinctive look. It has an almost white dorsal fin and some small dark scars indicative of a killer whale attack at an early age (apparent in the photograph above taken 26 June 2005 in the Santa Barbara Channel).

You can view the photograph and text that were presented at the memorial at