The Captains and Crew of the Condor Express
The Condor Express Story
For over 30 years, Condor Cruises have been a part of the Santa Barbara waterfront. Captain Fred Benko started the Sea Landing in March of 1973 as a charter service offering sport fishing, diving, harbor cruises, and limited whale watching. At that time the Pacific Gray Whale population was extremely endangered and estimated to be only 8,300 animals. Fortunately, with time this number steadily grew, and by 1985 the herd was over 15,000 animals. Then, Capt. Benko sold the Sea Landing and went into whale watching full time.
Meet The Crew of the Condor Express
Hiroko is the president of the Condor Express, known to some as “the Commodore.” She launched the Condor Express in 2002 with her late husband, Captain Fred. Hiroko brings a wealth of knowledge in many fields – foreign service, international relations, administration and management. She has worked around the world: Tokyo, Sweden, Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara. Hiroko’s focus is to continually improve the Condor Express experience and to seek innovation for new charter experiences.
Captain Dave is an “Ocean State” native and a graduate of the University of Rhode Island. He has worked in the field of marine mammal research, rescue and rehabilitation for over twenty years. He works all over the world as marine mammal consultant, research and rescue team leader, including Japan and the Galapagos Islands. He is our crew member responsible for reporting and coordinating the rescue of entangled whales and dolphins. Dave is also an accomplished videographer and underwater cinematographer. His credits include National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and many Cousteau feature films. Dave brings his extensive marine mammal experience and love for the ocean aboard every trip, and he is a great Captain.
Second Captain Eric brings over a decade of experience to the Condor Express. For 9 years he was Captain of the University of California at Santa Barbara Research Vessel. His support of research operations gives him an intimate knowledge of the Santa Barbara Channel and its unique marine life. Eric also captained several dive boats up and down the coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara. He is well versed in the topography and resources of our Channel Islands, both above and below the water line.
Cafe Condor Manager
Tasha is the manager and chef of “Cafe Condor,” our galley. She grew up in Long Beach, California. She moved here to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with a degree in Geography. She has spent much of the past seven years SCUBA diving the Channel Islands by cooking on boats. She has only left Santa Barbara to travel and work at a surf camp in Southeast Asia and Central America. In her spare time she is involved in mammal rescue.
Bob is the staff photographer on board the Condor Express. He is a Loyola University alum, with graduate studies at UCLA. He has taught biology and marine science at the high school and college level. He is a retired 100-ton charter boat Captain and Master SCUBA Instructor. His photographs and articles have been published in many marine life publications. Bob is married and has a son, a daughter and a grandson.
Captain Fred Benko (1939 – 2013)
Fred was the founder and creator of the Condor Express business. He was a United States Marine, a Vietnam veteran, and a graduate of George Washington University. Originally from Ohio, Fred was in the local sport-fishing industry as far back as 1973, and in 1979 built the original Condor. In 2002 he began to run exclusively natural history and whale watching trips, he had the Condor Express custom-built to provide the best ocean tours in the world. Fred was very active in the community and served on the boards of many civic institutions. He remains an inspiration to all of us.