The Marquesas

 

Fatu Hiva
What a thrilling sight after nearly 3 weeks at sea – the lofty vivid green volcanic mountains of Fatu Hiva rising over 2,000ft straight up out of a vast deep blue sea – clearly visible from the sea even though Sea Cloud is still 25 miles to the East closing the gap rapidly as she romps along in very consistent 18-22 kt ESE trade winds.

After rounding the north cape of Fatu Hiva, great excitement and anticipation dominate the mix of emotions as we approach and prepare to make landfall in the iconic and stunningly beautiful anchorage of Hanavave (Bay of Virgins) on the sheltered west coast. This anchorage is on every yachtie’s bucket list and, while words don’t do it justice, the description of Thor Heyerdahl upon his arrival in 1938 comes close:

“A mighty valley opened before us. It looked completely artificial, like the stage of a theatre, with rows of red side screens jutting into the green palm forests from both sides. These fantastic side curtains were outlined with bizarre profiles against the greenery as if cut from plywood by an artist with a sense of shape and effect, rather than crumbling red tuff moulded by millennia of rain and storms. A row of thatched bamboo sheds was discernible between the palm trunks above the boulder strewn beach.” (Thor Heyerdahl, Green was the Earth on the Seventh Day)

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It was so good to launch the dinghy and head for land.

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The locals here are so friendly. While trying to identify a new fruit in someone’s garden, the owners, Henri and Anne invited us inside to look at their beautiful tapa and woodcarvings. They have made a pair of beautiful carved paddles which they will take to the large Artisan festival to be held in Tahiti at the end of June. They offered us fresh fruit, which we could pick up after our walk to the waterfall. On our return they had a bag of pamplemousse (the largest grapefruit we had ever seen, limes, mangoes and a huge hand of bananas, then lent us their wheelbarrow to get the load back to our dinghy!

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They did not want money, but were happy to take some perfume, notebooks and pens in return. The kids using our dinghy as a pool toy smilingly helped us load the dinghy so we could head back to Sea Cloud.

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We celebrated our arrival with Moet and Fois gras on the Norwegian yacht, Alutia. It was great to finally meet Birgitte and Olav, who had left Santa Cruz 30minutes after us, and arrived in Hanavave an hour before us. Ian and Olav had twice daily conversations on SSB radio as we were never more than 50 miles apart the whole way.

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The magnificent scenery is at its absolute best at sunset when the colours of the setting sun reflect off the craggy rocks surrounding the bay and valley.

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fh rainbSunday church is an important part of community life. Listening to the beautiful singing while looking through the windows at the craggy peaks beyond was a magical experience.

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Simon, a local woodcarver took a few of us in his boat to Omoa the larger village on the island. Although the town is only about 20minutes by boat, it is a 17km walk over the island’s central mountain spine. The coastline was very dramatic. The landing in the small harbour easy in comparison to earlier times where landing on the beach amongst the crashing waves was the only choice.

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Fatu Hiva is famous for both woodcarving and Tapa, paintings done on the beaten bark of local trees. We were able to view many of these artists at work in Omoa.

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Hiva Oa
After a pleasant 45mile sail north, we anchored outside the breakwater in Atuona, Hiva Oa. Fortunately the seas were calm so this notoriously swelly anchorage was quite pleasant, and we haven’t had to bother with stern anchors which are necessary inside the harbour.

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The town, a good half hour walk from the anchorage has small museums for its most famous residents, Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.

We rented a car to explore the spectacular mountainous island, The main road which runs along the spine of the island has beautiful views down to the coast.

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With the help of Monique and Dick, we managed to find the smiling tiki hidden amongst the coconut palms and dense forest. The archeological site of Iipona has very large impressive tikis.

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us tiki hivaThe white sandy beach and crystal clear blue water of Hanamoenoa bay on Tahuata island was the perfect spot to chill and to clean Sea Cloud’s dirty hull and remove the green beard growing along her waterline.

Nuku Hiva

Nuku Hiva, is the largest island of the Marquesas. The huge anchorage at Taiohae, in a collapsed ancient volcano is very beautiful. The hub of the town is the dock where groups of yachties gather outside of Nuku Hiva Yacht services or the adjacent cafe – catching up on emails and enjoying local poisson cru and listening to the guitar players who gather there in the early evening.  A group of us took a guided tour, great for learning about the history and archaeology of the island and hearing about life in the Marquesas.

Atuona Bay, on the north side of Nuku Hiva has been described as one of the most beautiful bays in the Marquesas. It certainly is a spectacular anchorage with palm fringed white sandy beaches, framed by a backdrop of huge mountains. The locals are very friendly. A group of 11 of us were treated to a BBQ goat dinner under the coconut palms listening to the locals playing guitar and singing.

 

 

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The walk across the saddle to the adjacent bay was challenging, but the beautiful view over the anchorage was well worth it.

Back in Tahohaie Bay its been a very social time catching up with friends, trying Marquesan dancing, provisioning and  preparing for our time in the Tuamotus. Internet has been tricky here, but will be even more so once we venture further west, well at least until we reach Tahiti in a few months time.

 

Galapagos-Marquesas Passage

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“And yet the sea is a horrible place. Sailing the sea is stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper; the sea, the motion, the lack of space, the villainous tinned foods, the sailors, the captain, the passengers – but you are amply repaid when you sight an island, and drop anchor in a new world.” (Robert Lois Stevenson 1888; letter to a friend 1888 on making landfall in the Marquesas).

…To which Paul Theroux adds: “Those were my sentiments exactly: sailing the sea was a monotony of doldrums interrupted by windy periods of nightmarish terror. No desert was ever deadlier or more tedious than an ocean. Then – after weeks or months of your thinking life is a reach and then you jibe – landfall.” (Paul Theroux, Happy Isles of Oceania (1992))

At over 3,000 miles, the Galapagos-Marquesas voyage is the longest ocean passage that we’ve undertaken so far – indeed the longest by far for the vast majority of sailors circumnavigating in low latitudes. During the passage it didn’t always seem so, but looking back, the overall experience was pleasurable sailing in brisk trade winds, under mainly clear skies on deep blue water. However, the passage had undoubted physical and mental challenges including sleep deprivation, relentless, and at times profound, unpredictable arising from a very confused sea from mixing of several ocean swells, as well as an undercurrent of subliminal anxiety about the unknowns ahead and all the “what if” scenarios that inevitably creep into ones mind in a boat pushed beyond the norm. However, we now share a sense of achievement that a couple of risk-averse, conservative, 60 something, “Mom & Pop” sailors actually did this together as a team – as well as a great sense of relief that we and Sea Cloud have arrived in one piece in a pretty respectable time of just over 19 days.

The first hurdle was getting through the doldrums as fast as possible. Although the primary ITCZ is north of the equator at this point, there is a frequently encountered trough (“2nd ITCZ”) SSW of the Galapagos with highly variable winds and convection activity. This dictated we sail south below 30 S before attempting to head west.

Passage highlights:

  • The endless ever changing, restless, groaning, white cap spattered deep deep blue sea and knowing we are further from “civilisation” than the vast majority of the human race will ever or could ever be.
  • The ever changing nature and unpredictability of the sky, wind, waves and weather
  • Brisk sailing every day & night with Sea Cloud posting a 181mile day – a PB
  • Spectacular bright starry nights with virtually no light pollution
  • The bright ¾ moon shimmering silver on wind-affected water
  • At the end of night watch seeing the sunrise out of the water
  • Seeing the green flash at sunset
  • Never tiring of watching the skilful boobies diving for flying fish scattered by Sea Cloud’s bow wave. The fact that these amazing birds, often alone, are seen more than 1,500 miles from land.
  • Great food and that we were still eating fresh fruit, vegetables as well as fresh baked bread and home made fruit cake on day 20. This is testament to Cathy’s brilliant foresight, planning and provisioning in Panama and Galapagos (which posed not insignificant challenges in achieving this aim). Extensive supply of deep frozen, pre-prepared meals ensured superb hot meals even when adverse conditions and passage fatigue precluded lengthy periods in the galley.
  • Not breaking anything (vang broken before we started) & the “Green Death” (Volvo engine) did fire up on arrival. A crucial aspect of minimising wear while sailing downwind for weeks on end is chaffe prevention, balancing sails and helm to permit our indispensible Hydrovane to maintain a steady course without much interference or effort.
  • Approaching land after weeks at sea and being greeted by dozens of dolphins leaping around us and gliding for hours in the bow wave while a welcoming party of dozens of curious boobies circled and swooped around us seemingly looking for a spot to perch
  • Making landfall in a spectacularly beautiful, isolated bay on an island considered to be among the most isolated populated islands in the world – something only enjoyed by the small handful of yachties who get here the hard way. Then, seeing the play of light towards sunset on the jagged peaks and green hills while cracking that first beer after a dry 3 week passage.
  • It’s a big ocean, but knowing others are also out there somewhere over the horizon, makes it feel a little smaller. The Iridium GO, enabling weather reports, unlimited email and SMS and limited phone calls was our lifeline. Most of us with SSB radio could also contact others with variable success out to 800Nm. The community of cruisers in the Pacific is something quite unique. We are catching up with many people we met earlier in the season, from Curacao to Panama. Although there are hundreds of boats making the same voyage across the Pacific each year, many of the boat names and faces are familiar. Panache (Canadian Cat) regularly updated and plotted the position of a smallish group of about 20 boats (“M-Fleet”) between Galapagos and Marquesas. We were sent daily positions of all the fleet, exchanged stories of fish caught, meals eaten and received updates of life on the ‘other side’ from the boats who had made landfall. These emails and those from our friends Monique and Dick (“Umnyana”) as well as Ian’s daily SSB chat with Olav & Birgitte (“Alutia”) were so important in maintaining human contact over the 19 days.

The synopsis of the passage Galapagos – Fatu Hiva:

  • Distance sailed: 3,158 nautical miles
  • Time taken 19d 5hr; overall average speed (SOG) 6.83 kts
  • Average daily run 164 Nm (range 143 – 181Nm)
  • Winds: Doldrums/equatorial trough (2nd ITCZ) days 1-3; remainder SE-ESE trades 16-22kts (90%); 22-25kts (10%)
  • Waves: 0.5-1m (5%), 1-2m (80%); 2-3m (15%)
  • Weather: Rain squall days 5 (25 – 35kts)
  • Sail plan (conservative): double reefed main 95% (with boom preventer and Walder boom break); poled out genoa (“wing on wing”) 80%; broad reaching both sails on port gybe (20%). Number of gybes – nil.
  • Engine hours 21
  • Generator hours 10 (ave 1.5h every 3 days)
  • Water consumed 840 L (22L/d per head)
  • Gear we wouldn’t leave home without: Freezer permitted access to precooked meals for weeks – obviating need for lengthy galley time when fatigued or in unpleasant seas. “Mr D” slow cooker saved LPG and kept galley time to a minimum. Mung beans and sprout cultivator and Basil our potted friend. Ikea “dog bowls” to prevent spilling dinner in rough seas. “Ted” our Hydrovane wind vane self steering device worked superbly & was engaged 98% of the entire voyage. Watt & Sea hydrogenerator worked flawlessly and, without the power drain from the Raymarine autopilot, W&S (if boat speed > 7.5 kts) can provide near 100% of power needs day or night. Water maker (& 900L tankage) permitted the luxury of daily showers. Bean bag – on the cockpit floor on a rough night provided much needed muscle rest during times of profound rolling. Nespresso machine – life too short to go without good coffee

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Galapagos island hopping

Our parts arrived very quickly in Panama City, thanks to Maria and Cathy. As we knew we would have at least another week waiting for them to be brought to us via another cruiser, Ian and I decided to have a few days on a cruise ship exploring some of the islands we couldn’t get to on Sea Cloud. We left JoAnne and Bill with Sea Cloud and caught the ferry to Santa Cruz where we joined the cruise. ship Santa Cruz II for 4 wonderful days of being looked after, eating very well, meeting interesting people and seeing the most amazing places full of wildlife.

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The highlight of Bacchas Beach on Santa Cruz Island was a nesting turtle slowly coming out of the water and then digging her nest.

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A panga trip on Santiago Island was great for bird spotting. Snorkelling along the coastline we saw abundant reef fish, a manta ray and black tipped reef sharks

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On our early morning walk to Rabida Island we spotted the elusive Galapagos hawk and their favourite food, the lava lizard. Mating rays were spotted in the path of our kayak trip along the coastline.

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IMG_3909While snorkelling on Bartholome Island we spotted a group of penguins, quite a treat as there haven’t been as many around this year in the other islands.

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IMG_3951A sunset walk to the peak of the island was spectacular.IMG_4015

Genovese Island was an unexpected gem. The rocky barren top of the island is a favourite for nesting red footed and nazcar boobies, frigate birds. The birds and chicks are so unafraid as we wandered along the paths between their nests.IMG_4127Frigate birds (“magnificent” and “great”) showing the red pouch and full courtship display! IMG_4336

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Back in San Cristobal,  we enjoyed the surf competition at La Loberia beach, then the walk along the spectacular headland.

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After a few days our parts finally arrived, thank you Shawnigan! We set sail for Isabela Island where we spent a few days. We had a very hot but enjoyable cycle to the Wall of Tears – a pointless wall built by prisoners in the 1950s.

IMG_4714Large tortoises could be spotted along the side of the road, lazily resting and eating in the shade of the bushes and the picnic shelter.

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IMG_4720It was iguana breeding time on Isabela, masses of tiny iguanas could were seen on the beachfront bar opposite the Booby Trap Bar, the yachties watering hole owned by local agent James.

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All of our friends had raved about the Los Tuneles tour. It didn’t disappoint. We had the opportunity to swim with turtles, many black tipped sharks and to see a seahorse. We swam through and then walked on the stunning lava formations. The highlight was seeing a blue footed booby performing his mating dance.

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We sailed back to Santa Cruz Island for last minute provisioning, experiencing  the fish market and diving at Nth Seymour.

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The Los Kioskos street of fish restaurants was our favourite haunt – we needed a few restaurant meals before our long passage to the Marquesas.

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We were very sad to say farewell JoAnne and Bill who were heading to mainland Ecuador then back to Panama. We had such a fun time with them!

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Galapagos – San Cristobal

Our checkin to Galapagos went smoothly. Eight officials boarded our boat, the diver went down to check the bottom, cupboards were opened, foodstuff and safety gear checked, forms signed, money paid and Sea Cloud and crew were cleared to stay for 60 days in Galapagos. We used water taxis in and out of town as there is nowhere to put your dinghy. We wouldn’t want to leave one here anyway as it would quickly become a bed for one of the many resident sea lions.

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We were welcomed by a few pups sitting on the end of the jetty. They are so cute and there are so many of them playing in the ‘creche’ pond. You never tire of their antics.

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Monique and Dick from Umnyama had been here for a few days, so filled us in on their favourite spots. Sea lions loved sleeping on their transom. They were happy to have them there, but not so happy when they realised one had slept overnight on their cockpit table!

Our first walk took us to the magical Tijeretas Cove, which very quickly became our favourite spot. Snorkelling with the playful sea lion pups was very special. They are so unafraid, and obviously don’t know about the park rule of keeping 2m between humans and wildlife. Their cheeky face would come right up to your mask, then they’d dart below you. The more we tumbled, the more they copied. So much fun. The bay was different each time we visited, we saw sea lions and pelicans feeding on huge balls of small fish. We also saw rays, turtles, iguanas blue footed boobies as well as many colourful fish.

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IMG_3704Our other favourite spot was La Loberia, a surf beach on the southern cove. The cliffs beyond the beach was a wonderful spot for viewing nesting swallow tailed gulls, watching blue footed boobies fishing, frigate birds swooping and the elegant red billed tropic bird.

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You had to take care not to tread on the marine iguanas on the footpaths. They blend in so well to the dark lava.IMG_3389

A tour across the island to climb the extinct volcano and to visit the giant tortoise breeding centre.

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San Cristobal town is small, laid back and friendly. There are sea lions everywhere along the beachfront and town dock.

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Panama City to Galapagos

After final farewells at Balboa Yacht Club and last minute shopping done, we left Panama City.

A_IMG_7476This passage was the most pleasant we have had by far. We had steady winds on our beam, a 2knot current behind us and calm seas. Having JoAnne and Bill on board meant lots of sleep, laughs, good food and fun for all.

The only hiccup was the burning out of our fan belt when the idler pulley failed. Pretty scary to have black smoke coming from the engine room, but a relief to find it was not a fire. Ian and Bill spent the next day building a replacement pulley from bits on the boat, and it worked!!

We crossed the equator during the night, so postponed our celebration until the following day.

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Crossing the equator was celebrated in style. We wore crowns made by JoAnne, while we told stories, and sipped  French champagne as we toasted our conversion from shellbacks to polliwogs (or is it the other way around?).

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As we wouldn’t make it into port by the evening, we hove to off the top of San Cristobal to clean the hull and to take many photographs posing with our new friends, a pair of red footed boobies perched on our pulpit.

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As the sun rose over Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion) we drifted down in the current towards San Cristobal Wreck Bay anchorage with the dolphins and sea lions swimming around us.

LandHo2_IMG_3210GA_IMG_3216Bill pushed Sea Cloud along using the tender and we safely anchored. Very exciting to finally be in the Galapagos!

 

 

 

 

Las Perlas Islands

Carnivale over, we left Panama city and its very busy waterways headed for Las Perlas islands, about 40Nm from Panama.

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Our first day out we caught our only fish for the trip. Hard to believe as there were fish everywhere!

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Bill demonstrated the art of filleting the tuna for sashimi.

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The islands were lovely.  Contadora, is the closest to Panama City. It is the most populated island, a popular getaway spot for Panamanians.  It was a very pleasant spot to anchor and explore.IMG_2886

Contadora has a colourful history. The abandoned hotel with its beached ferry were apparently owned by a Colombian drug lord. Once his plane exploded mid air with him aboard, his wife was no longer able to afford running the resort. Such a shame to see the graceful old wooden buildings in ruinIMG_2897The bird life, especially around the southern islands was incredible. Huge flocks of black birds would pass the boat in formation, congregate on the beach for about 30minutes, then leave again. An amazing site.IMG_3047

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We never tired of watching the pelicans flying past and then diving for dinner.IMG_2909

To our great excitement we spotted whales off Elephante Island. It was rather scary but wonderful to have these giants frolicking in the water around the boat. We slowed right down to watch the whales and the huge schools of rays which swam past the boat.

IMG_2921IMG_2920IMG_2956IMG_2981We were all very keen to visit Isla San Telmo, the location of the wreck of a 1860s pearling submarine. The sub was abandoned in 1869 following many deaths due to decompression sickness.  JoAnne and Bill had been wanting to visit this treasure for years.  Low tide was the perfect time for viewing the sub. It is a such shame that this important part of history is just rotting away in this isolated location.

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Anchored on the south coast of Isla Del Rey, we explored the Rio Cacique River by dinghy. Beautiful and fun, but didn’t spot any crocs or other wildlife.

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JoAnne, a ham radio operator finally proved that our SSB worked by chatting with some ham operators in Virginia. We are looking forward to using it to communicate with other cruisers as we head out into the Pacific.

IMG_3244We anchored near San Bernando Islet, on Isla Pedro Gonzalez, looking forward to the walks ashore amongst the herb plantations described in Bauhaus, our very good pilot book. Unfortunately the beachfront has been taken over by the Ritz Carlton, so although we could anchor there and take our dinghy ashore, access any further was forbidden.

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It was great to meet up with Karen and Chris on Skabenga for beach walks, drinks, dinner and hilarious card games….

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We’re now back in Panama city to await our French Polynesian visas and to do a final provision before our much anticipated trip to Galapagos.

Panama City Carnivale

Transit over, we settled into life on our mooring buoy at Balboa Yacht Club, watching the passing traffic, catching up with other cruisers and enjoying Panama city.

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Las Perlas Islands

We had timed our arrival perfectly, managing to coincide with Carnivale.

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Carnivale in Panama is a huge 5 day event with parades and all night parties. The ‘schedule’ was very fluid, never seeming to correspond with the anything we read, or were told. The police on site (and there were masses of them!) were the only ones who really seemed to know what was going on. Security was a huge issue, everyone (including tiny children) had to show ID and then undergo a body search before entering the fenced off parade area along the waterfront.

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Colourful, lively and loud parades were held each night, with the main parade being held on the last night.

 

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