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SEATTLE (April 16, 1996) -- Kathy D. Sheehan, a lifelong sailor and descendant of a line of seafarers, has attained qualifying status for a U.S. Coast Guard captain's license.

Officials of the U.S. Coast Guard Regional Examination Center here approved Sheehan's name for the Merchant Mariner's eligibility registry today after she submitted a detailed, notarized list of her sailing experience and education.

The approval is the critical first step for Sheehan, known as CaptKathyS on America Online, to acquire a mariner's license.

The Coast Guard said her 28 years of experience on sailboats ranging from Sunfishes to Tall Ships makes her eligible to take the examination for a 50-ton Master's license (Inland Waters). She is also approved to test for the so-called "Six-Pack" captain's license, operator of uninspected passenger vessels. She has until April 8, 1997, to take the test.

"I feel like I won the lottery!" Sheehan said after receiving her rating approval in the mail.

Sheehan was so excited she barged into the bathroom on her first mate, Chuck Dingée, waving the precious yellow certificate.

"Geez, don't let it go to your head," Dingée (not pronounced dinghy) called from the poop deck. Dingée, who has a 100-Pun license, was not pissed off at the intrusion.

Sheehan, a native of Cambridge, Mass., now living in Bellingham, Wash., spent nearly three years documenting that she has spent at least 360 days at sea to qualify for the exam. The Coast Guard required notarized letters from the owners of all vessels she sailed on, a physical exam and a drug test. Each letter had to spell out the dates Sheehan sailed on the vessel, in what capacity, the boat registration numbers, its tonnage and other arcane data.

For her own boat, the Freedom-25 she sailed in the Chesapeake Bay for four years, Sheehan had to go through date books, logbooks and journal entries to list the days she served at the mast.

Although Sheehan estimated she has spent about 800 days on boats during her lifetime, she was unable to document much of that time in the form acceptable to the Coast Guard. Community Boating of Boston, for instance, where Sheehan learned to sail at the age of 12, had no records verifying her membership and helmsman rating. The Coast Guard also does not accept letters from relatives, so a few summers on the boat of her older brother, John, did not count, either.

"Taking the all-day battery of tests for the license will be a breeze compared to the difficulty in getting all those letters in the precise form the Coast Guard required," Sheehan said.

At an impromptu press conference, Sheehan thanked many people who helped and supported her in attaining qualifying status: American Youth Hostels' Sailing Committee in Philadelphia, Jack Bazhaw, Jeff Brown, Eric Carlson, Bob Carter, John and Marianne Castle, Pam Champagne, the crew of the Tall Ship Gazela, Chuck Dingée, Dr. David Harvey, Dr. Ruth Harvey, Dr. Kellie Jacobs, Tip Johnson, Bob Kellogg, Dan Krachuk, Bill Land, Jim Martin, Steve McGowan, Ann Marie Morgenstern, Jay Mullen, Robin, Gilbert, Alexis and Josh Palley, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, AKA Independence Seaport Museum, the late Capt. Alfred Renault (her great grandfather), Rod and Annie Sadler, the Traditional Small Craft Association and the late Peter Vanadia.

Sheehan, who is currently teaching a newswriting class at Western Washington University, said she will probably wait until summer to take the exam.