Return of the Condor

By Richard Mineards   |   January 21, 2021
The Condor Express dry docked on the Ventura Pier awaiting the loading of their four new engines (photo by Priscilla)
Condor’s Captain David Beezer carefully guides the second 740 HP engine into placement (photo by Priscilla)

To the Ventura Harbor Boat Yard with my trusty shutterbug Priscilla, where the beloved Santa Barbara whale watching vessel, Condor Express, owned by Hiroko Benko, has been undergoing a major transformation.

The 100-ton, 74-foot catamaran, which was rebuilt in 2011, still had the original engines from its 2002 launch, and had to meet new environmental requirements under the Clean Air Act by next year under Tier 3 rules, so Hiroko, widow of original owner Fred Benko, decided the pandemic lockdown was the ideal time to install four new $150,000 one-and-half-ton engines made by the Swedish company, Scania, part of the Volkswagen group.

The diesel engines, which produce 740 horsepower each, will enable the vessel to be cleaner burning and more fuel efficient, with a top speed of 30 knots. As they are much lighter than the old engines it will also increase the capacity allowed from 127 passengers to 149.

It takes 2,000 gallons of diesel to fill the Condor Express tanks, which normally last four or five days with 50-mile roundtrips to the Channel Islands.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the Clean Air Act legislation, has also provided a grant covering nearly a quarter of the cost of the engines and the installation which were moved into place with considerable precision by Big Red crane driver Richard Sawtell, who lowered the huge pieces of machinery through the small deck hatches like he was threading a needle.

The Condor’s well-seasoned, impressive crew: Captain David Beezer, Austin McNeir, Devon Hunt, Kelly Kohls, and Adam Fenster (photo by Priscilla)
Captain Beezer unloading and securing the second contained life rafts into place, each capable of holding 100 passengers (photo by Priscilla)

“It’s quite nerve wracking,” he admitted. “But after seven years I’m used to it and manage to keep my cool.”

The boat’s longtime captain Dave Beezer, who was on hand to supervise the installation, joined us for lunch on the boat’s deck with scrumptious fare from Brophy Brothers, sister eatery to John and Sue Bennett’s popular Santa Barbara harbor nosheteria, which opened in Ventura Harbor 13 years ago.

After its major refit the popular vessel is scheduled to return to our Eden by the Beach on Valentine’s Day. How appropriate…


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