Capt. Susan Clark, an accomplished shipmaster who became the first female pilot for Portland Harbor in Maine and the first woman to join the elite Portland Marine Society, died Sept. 6.
Clark, 48, who died after a brief battle with cancer, had worked for Portland Pilots Inc. since 2001 and piloted more than 1,000 ships into Portland Harbor, according to the Portland Press Herald.
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. She attended the 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.
When she joined the Portland Marine Society in 2005 she became the first woman in the group. Ship captains founded it in 1796 for "the promotion of the knowledge of navigation and seamanship."