Obituary: Ocean rescue a highlight of Captain Barry's command of huge ships

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2013 - 10:01 PM

Barry Costanzi marked his many years as a master mariner of commercial ships with dignity and devotion to “the law of maritime.”

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From left: Captain Barry Costanzi, an unidentified Horizon Reliance crewmember, and Jenni and John Bourdon.

Photo: Provided by John Bourdon,

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Under Captain Barry’s nimble navigation, the massive container ship answered the call, nuzzled up to a 33-foot sailboat bobbing about in the vast Pacific Ocean and spared an ailing octogenarian from almost certain death hundreds of miles from the nearest port.

Barry Costanzi’s redirection of his Horizon Reliance from its appointed cross-ocean route late in the spring of 2012 still chokes up John Bourdon, whose father, Robert, had suffered a stroke on the “bucket list” voyage from Olympia, Wash., to Hawaii.

“Captain Barry was old school,” John Bourdon said this week of the St. Paul native, who since the late 1980s captained commercial vessels from the Lower 48 to Hawaii, Alaska, the Far East, the Caribbean and Europe. “He lived by the law of maritime and seamen. He would be the type that if the ship went down, he’d be the last one off.”

On Aug. 18, while on his regular route from Los Angeles to Hawaii, Costanzi, 66, was found dead in his quarters on the Reliance. An official ruling on his death has yet to be made for the man who routinely ran laps on his 895-foot-long vessel to stay shipshape, but the family said the cause was medical in nature.

Costanzi was 66.

John Bourdon said the idyllic three-generation odyssey from the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii began to unravel in mid-June of 2012, when he realized his father “was unable to speak and or move his right side.” There was still another 1,100 miles left in their journey.

“I called my doctor first [for a diagnosis],” John Bourdon said. Then he contacted the Coast Guard. The first option was boarding a ship heading to Guatemala, but the Bourdons had concerns about the level of care upon arrival.

They sweated out another day, and that’s when Costanzi got word and immediately put the Reliance on a new course, arriving from behind within four to five hours.

With the waves jostling both vessels, it took three attempts before the Reliance could safely align itself with the sailboat. After twice failing to lower a lifeboat onto the smaller craft, a gangplank provided an escape path for the elder Bourdon.

Robert Bourdon was piggybacked up the steps to the ship, comforted while aboard and brought to land many days sooner than if he had remained on the sailboat with his son and grandson.

“My concern was dehydration,” John Bourdon said. “He wasn’t taking anything in.

“Captain Barry saved his life. He would not be where he is today without him.”

Being a master mariner, as those in charge of such commercial vessels are titled, Costanzi possessed the skills of a CEO.

Not only did he oversee the Reliance’s safe navigation, but he also was in charge of human resources, accounting and adherence to many regulations covering his 26-member crew and ship.

“He was clearly the leader of the vessel,” said Pete Strohla, vice president and general manager of ocean transportation services for North Carolina-based Horizon. “He had the proper mind-set, was a team player and brought everyone together. He always had a smile on his face, not that he didn’t take his job seriously.”

Costanzi was forced to dock his oceangoing career for a time and became an executive recruiter in the late 1970s after a divorce and then a custody dispute over daughter Amanda. He knew his chances in court would improve if he wasn’t away at sea for weeks at a time.

In what was considered to be “kind of unique at the time,” Costanzi won custody of his daughter, his attorney on the case, Bill Ecklund, said this week. “Courts would always award custody [back then] to the mother.”

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