CAPE ELIZABETH – Capt. Susan Clark, an accomplished shipmaster who became the first female pilot for Portland Harbor and the first woman to join the elite Portland Marine Society, has died at age 48.
Clark, who died Thursday after a brief battle with cancer, had worked for Portland Pilots Inc. since 2001 and piloted more than 1,000 ships into Portland Harbor.
As a pilot boat captain, her job was to pull up alongside a ship, climb a rope ladder up the hull of the vessel to board it, then direct it through the channels of Casco Bay into Portland Harbor.
Capt. San Juan “Sandy” Dunbar, who piloted vessels into Portland Harbor for 38 years, said it’s the most perilous time in a ship’s voyage. Tankers nearly 1,000 feet long can pass only a few feet above the ocean floor in the harbor.
Dunbar said Clark was highly respected on the waterfront.
“Susan was always thought of as a competent ship handler,” he said. “When you go aboard a ship as a pilot, you have a minute to introduce yourself and win the confidence of the shipmaster. … She put everyone at ease. … She had that command presence.”
Clark’s drive for success began during her years at Skowhegan Area High School. She graduated in 1981 as valedictorian and class president.
She went on to attend Maine Maritime Academy, and sailed around the world as a cadet on a container ship. She graduated from the academy first in her class.
Clark began her maritime career as a watch officer on oil tankers with Exxon Shipping Co. She achieved a milestone by earning her Unlimited Ocean Master’s license and becoming the first female captain for Exxon.
She captained tankers for Exxon for several years, then put her career on hold and went to law school. She attended Seton Hall and the University of Maine School of Law, where she graduated in 1992.
She worked as an associate attorney for Verrill Dana LLP in Portland. Patricia Aho, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, praised her work and leadership on marine commerce issues in Maine.
“Her talent and skills were extraordinary,” Aho said. “It’s a sad day. It’s a huge loss for her family, her loved ones, and for the state of Maine. I will miss her greatly.”
At Verrill Dana, Clark’s office overlooked Portland Harbor. She practiced law for a few years before realizing that she was meant to work on the water.
Clark received her pilot’s license in 2001 and became the harbor’s first female pilot.
When she joined the Portland Marine Society, she became the first woman in the group that was founded by ship captains in 1796 for “the promotion of the knowledge of navigation and seamanship.”
Though her career was an important part of her life, nothing was more important to her than her husband, Glenn Daukas, and their two sons, Louis and Rigel.
On Monday, Daukas talked about their life together in Cape Elizabeth and the day-to-day things she did with her sons. He said she enjoyed riding bikes, going to the beach and playing games with her boys.
Daukas noted his wife’s love for spending summers on Sebec Lake with him and the boys.
“She was a great mom,” Daukas said. “She was an incredible woman. … I’ll miss her friendship and her impact on the children as they grow.”
Clark had a passion for traveling and for competing in road races and triathlons.
Julie Churchill, Clark’s lifelong friend, remembered her as a graceful and beautiful woman who lived life to its fullest.
“She had so much zest for life. She could make everyday moments into a beautiful experience. That’s what Susan brought to the table,” Churchill said. “She was so positive and so interested in everything, and that’s how her kids are. … People who barely knew her said she was an amazing woman.”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: