A Minnesota mothers love of the sea


It took 58 years before Dorothy LaFond was able to commence her life as an offshore celestial navigator. At that age most of us have already given up the rigors of shipboard life for the comforts of hearth and home. But LaFond had the best reason for why her departure was delayed: her family. As a single mother of eight children — two boys and six girls — she made sure they all graduated high school before she ran off to sea.

LaFond, aka “Toots,” is cut from the same cloth as the iconic pioneer women and has done everything from raising sheep, to putting venison on the table, to panning for gold. As a youngster, LaFond spent summers sailing on Whitefish Lake in Minnesota.

LaFond ended up relocating to Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minn. She befriended Ann Larson and her husband Ed who ran the Blue Waters Sailing School. LaFond began teaching and sailing larger boats on Lake Superior. She also took Coast Guard classes in celestial navigation and soon was teaching them.

Along the way she met Eben Whitcomb, owner of the schooner Harvey Gamage. Whitcomb was doing navigation classes offshore and LaFond joined the boat and began a five-year career of crewing and teaching celestial.

When LaFond returned home she wrote a celestial manual workbook called Celestial Navigation, available on Amazon.

Let’s join LaFond on the quarterdeck of Gamage sometime in November. They are on their way to Bermuda and she is going to try to get a lat/long fix from a noon sight. First she has to calculate the time of LAN in GMT so that she can get a good latitude shot. For the longitude, she has to do a somewhat different technique. About a half hour before LAN she will take a lower limb shot of the sun and record it. At the time of meridian passage she will take a shot of the sun and record it at its zenith. Then she will reset the sextant to her first Hs and record the time — about a half hour later — when the sun is at that altitude again. LaFond will first calculate the latitude for the LAN sight and then she will average the time of her sights, as the sun ascends and then descends, using the average to convert the GHA into arc and longitude.

Here is what we know: The day is Nov. 15 (2011 Nautical Almanac), height of eye is 12 ft. First LaFond has to calculate the time LAN occurs. She projects that the DR at noon will be 38° 02’ N by 69° 10’ W. LaFond will take a lower limb shot of the sun and record the Hs at the time of LAN. That Hs is 33° 22.6’. The first thing she does, however, is take a lower limb shot of the sun as it ascends at 15:52:20 GMT. The Hs at this time is 32° 58.6’. The next time the sun is at that height is at 16:50:45. Here is what we want to find:    

A. Calculate time of local apparent noon.
B. What is the Ho?
C. What is the latitude at LAN?
D. What is Ho for 2nd and 3rd sights?
E. What is average time for longitude?
F. What is the longitude?

A. 16:21:40
B. 33° 34.0’
C. 37° 55.6’
D. 33° 10’
E. 16:21:02
F. 69° 07.1’ W

By Ocean Navigator