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.”
Ecklund, who has stayed friends with the family through all these years, said Costanzi “was a dedicated father. He gave up his merchant marine career, at least temporarily, to stay at home and take care of his daughter.”
Within a few years, Costanzi and his daughter moved from St. Paul to Buffalo, Minn., down the block from his sister, who helped raise Amanda so Barry could again ply the world’s oceans. He married in 1985 and had two sons with his second wife.
Amanda said having a father who was gone for weeks at a time on a ship was “a little bit of a roller coaster, when you have a daily presence and then you don’t. But it was kind of cool because no one else had a dad like that.”
And even though he would miss an occasional Christmas or recital, “he was still a big influence. We still knew when he was disappointed in us, even when he wasn’t there.”
Barry Vincent Costanzi graduated from Cretin High School in St. Paul in 1964 and then the U.S. merchant marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
Along with daughter Amanda, Costanzi is survived by his mother, Marianne; brothers Victor and Christopher; sisters Maureen, Annette and Francine; wife, Joan, and sons Barry Nicholas and Luke.
Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 300 1st Av. NW., in Buffalo, with visitation at the church starting at 9:30 a.m.