Suzie Olson: Traveling Safely Over the Water

by Steefenie Wicks

Suzi OlsonPhoto by Steefenie Wicks

Suzie Olson is a mariner.  She has been a part of the Sausalito anchorage for the last 30 years, an anchor out.  She recently became part of a waterfront community, having moved with her boat into a legal slip, starting a new life.  She is one of those rare women mariners that have been able to make a living on the water, creating her own way of life.  Like Rose Kissenger, who spent 22 years aboard the Pacific Queen/ aka the Balcutha, what she learned early on that if she was going to live on the water she was going to have to be resourceful.   Both Rose and Suzi historically followed a path not taken by many females: living, working, sailing, in this man’s world.

Born and raised in Mill Valley, her neighbor was famous local sea captain Commodore Warwick Tompkins. Her father, Ron Olson, who was an avid hiker, along with being the editor of the Mill Valley Review, the Mill Valley Historical Society’s newsletter. 

Suzi says that her father always encouraged her to seek out life; live it to its fullest. He also taught her how to be a good diplomat.  Her father liked the idea that she was on the water.  “Never be tied to any one thing, make your own way, and then own it.  This is what he told me, that’s what I learned,” she says.

“Living on the water, you come into contact with many different types of people, you try to be safe, staying away from the dangerous ones; but that’s just life.” she explains. “Living anchored out now is very different than when I moved here 30 years ago. Most of the mariners are gone, a lot of those anchored out lack the skills to make not only their lives safe but safe for those that live around them, in their boats’ scope.  There was a time when those anchored out were mariners getting their boats ready to go sailing. That’s now changed to a group of homeless people with $1 dollar boats trying to live on what can be a very dangerous Bay.”   Suzi continues,” There was a time when I saw this houseboat called The Weathervane do cartwheels across the anchorage.  Starting near the old Napa Street Pier, turning cartwheels till she reached the Strawberry beach area then starting to fall apart. I remember thinking, we’re all going to die.”  

She feels that today there are a lot of people in the anchorage who just want to get in Bill Price’s way as he tries to do his job.  She feels that Price is a reasonable Harbormaster, one folks can talk to and reason with. That’s why it’s so hard to watch the actions of others who have no respect for the public trust waters of Richardson’s Bay living in the anchorage. She has seen people come and go, children who have been born, grown up, then moved off the Bay.  Still she stays, this is her home where she works and lives.

When asked what type of work she does, she gets a sly smile on her face and says, “I get hired to make things pretty.”  One of the things she has been making pretty is the 100-year-old tugboat owned by Stewart Brand, The Mirene.  Suzi has worked on The Mirene since 1990 and is an official part of the crew when the vessel is taken out for one of its Bay cruses.  Her work on vessels has given her a name on the waterfront as one worker who will always be honest with you.  She is known for not over charging for a job and for doing work that has a special quality about it.  Her skills as a painter have placed her on board some very well-known vessels like: The Wanda, a 90 ft. long wooden fan tailed yacht, most recently she worked on the 80 ft. long double ended yacht, The Keranna, that was in town getting a $500,000 dollar refit which was a extremely fun job because the owner made available all of the materials that she needed to work with.

She is the first to tell you that what she is doing, keeping things pretty with paint and varnish, is fast becoming a man’s job.  She works by herself, watching the crews that come in and just knock a job out in a couple of hours because there are so many of them working it.  It takes her a lot longer as one person, but her work is impeccable. She has a reputation for doing a job right the first time because she is known for being a “Salty Soul.” As part of the Sausalito waterfront she has seen her life change, but right now for the better.

The one thing that keeps her going lately is her music, which she writes and performs with local waterfront groups or alone.  She also spends as much time as she can aboard her 8ft boat called Carmelita, which she can be seen sailing in the anchorage, tacking up and down Richardson’s Bay, traveling safely across the water, one of the faces of the Sausalito waterfront.