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Katherine Heinlein: President, Captree Fleet
An ocean-lover, Katherine and her former husband owned a fishing charter boat named the Tradewinds II, and operated their business out of Captree State Park.
Captree, located at the east end of Ocean Parkway at the tip of Robert Moses Beach, was in fact founded by Robert Moses as a place for Long Islanders to fish.
It is also home to the Captree Fleet, the largest public fishing fleet on Long Island, where you can charter a boat for a day of fishing on the Great South Bay or Atlantic Ocean, and everything you need is provided by the charter boat owner; bait, equipment, food and drink. If you don’t want to fish, there are boats for sightseeing and even scuba diving. For land lovers, you can fish or crab from the piers without getting your feet wet.
The Captree Fleet is comprised of between 24 to 28 charter boats owned by a group of independent boat and business owners. Katherine has served as president for the past seven years and is the liaison between the boatmen and the state. Beloved as a leader, when Katherine sold her boat, the association changed their by-laws so she could continue in her position, which is unpaid.
“We’re the largest fishing port in the state, but we’re also the forgotten port,” Katherine says. “It’s important for us as an association to let people know that we are the heart of Long Island.”
“I am one voice, instead of 24 complaining fishermen,” she laughs. “They need someone to be their advocate.”
Almost daily, Katherine arrives at the Captree piers at about 5 a.m. to check in with the boatmen. “I should hang a sign like Lucy from Peanuts that says, ‘Psychiatrist 5 Cents.’ They wait on line to talk to me,” she says.
The youngest member of the fleet is in his early 40’s and the oldest is Speedy, who is now in his 70’s and has been a fixture at Captree for decades.
The family-oriented atmosphere is a big attraction for the throngs of people who visit every year.
The fleet offers a broad range of boats, and many are outfitted for special services like catering and live concerts.
When Sandy hit Long Island, the bridge to Captree was closed. After the storm passed, Katherine served as liaison between New York State troopers and the boat owners until the damage was assessed, which was minimal. “Only one boat broke through its mooring,” she says. “It was pretty much incident free.”
What most people don’t know about Katherine is that almost 14 years ago, while in her early 30’s and a single mother of two, she was diagnosed with Myasthenia gravis (MG), a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes varying degrees of weakness of the body’s voluntary muscles.
She had been reluctant to discuss MG publicly because she does not want to be seen as having a weakness.
A side effect of MG is fatigue due to muscle weakness so Katherine doesn’t spend as much time on the water as she used to. “I love to fish, but it’s hard at sea, a lot of muscles are required,” she says.
Every two weeks Katherine has medication administered through a port surgically implanted in her chest. The IV bag is undetectable under her clothes so she can go about her day while being treated, which takes about six hours.
Even with a schedule filled with boats and fishing, Katherine dedicates time to her other passions: education, the community and improving the lives of senior citizens.
She sits on the Eastern Suffolk BOCES school board, and is the president-elect of the Bayport Blue Point Chamber of Commerce.
On occasion she travels to Albany and Washington D.C. as a Suffolk county representative for the New York State School Board Association, and she also represents the fleet to promote fishing.
“When I’m representing the schools, I’ll wear a fish pin, and if I’m representing the boat owners, I’ll wear my school board pin,” she laughs. She says the jewelry definitely sparks conversation.
“Everything I love to do is tied together,” she says.
Katherine has taken local senior citizens under her wing as well. She wanted to hold an event that would involve the entire community, including local students and faculty, and began hosting an annual dinner dance that has grown to include more than 350 senior citizens.
“The event is to thank the senior citizens for supporting the students. We have several generations living here, and it gives everyone an opportunity to network,” she says.
Katherine’s commitment to her community doesn’t weaken her. It has given her the strength to talk publicly about her disorder and become an advocate for MG awareness.
Her contributions have not gone unnoticed. Katherine was recently selected as one of three New York state residents to appear in a new “I Love New York” television campaign to promote tourism, which will be aired in the near future.
Katherine and her sons, Brian, 26, a boat captain who works on the Port Jefferson Ferry, and David, 21, a fisherman, have made their lives around the water.
It’s a sentiment that runs deep with Katherine.
“The second people step on a fishing boat, their day is done. They calm down. It’s a wonderful environment and it’s not about catching fish, it’s about camaraderie.”