Monthly Archives: July 2017

Just like Marce says

Our time in Lady Musgrave’s beautiful lagoon was winding down. You could tell by the offerings on the nightly menu. Like Marce always says, “We’ll never starve on Escape Velocity but it can get a little weird.” It was weird. It’s time to reprovision. 

We’d heard that a country town called 1770 was charming with a good supermarket in the next town up the road called Agnes Water. It seems that Captain James Cook came ashore in May 1770. I’ve never read any kind of quote about what he said but I bet it went something like “Damn, it’s shallow in here!”

Bucking head winds and the now familiar mixed up, washing machine waves all the way across the 35 miles of Coral Sea, we came into what looks like a straight forward entrance but the charts say “Warning-caution shifting bar, obtain local information.” In Australia that means ringing up the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service and asking them for the latest condition of the bar crossing. Well, just go to the green marker and turn 90 degrees toward the red marker and Bob’s your uncle. This is nothing like the chart but, you know, when in Rome. 

We found the green marker hiding impossibly close to the overhanging cliffs at Round Hill Head. The problem was that we were traversing over a very shallow bank to get there. Things began to line up once we rounded the green marker. But, like Cook probably said, damn, it’s shallow in here. As soon as we found a couple of boats at anchor we dropped ours. A guy on the cat next to us yelled over, “You don’t want to be there, it’s a sand bank!” We felt exposed to weather here anyway so we decided to wend our way upstream past the usual collection of rusting flea market boats that haven’t moved in a long time, and see what we could see. 

Still shallow but with a more peaceful location we thought about anchoring but it was tight and with the swirling currents at change of tide who knew where we’d end up. That’s when I spied a good sized yellow mooring buoy with heavy duty stainless hardware. That’s for us. It was dusk by the time we were ship shape and settled. I always feel weird borrowing someone else’s mooring but when a 3knt current started ripping through the anchorage I quickly made peace with it, and slept the peaceful sleep of the righteous, tied to someone else’s mooring.

The next morning we found our way across the shallows to a public dock just right for dinghies and soon we were wobbling our way up a steep hill towards Capt. Cook’s plaque up on Lookout Hill on boatbound legs. We summited, took the photo, and marveled at Cooks navigational skills exploring all of this thin water with out motors, GPS or chart plotters. 

After lunch we made the long walk into Agnes Water to resupply and found a quaint little town with a decent super market, but the folder bicycles are going to have to come out. It’s quite a hike for wobbly legs.

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Lost and found

We’ve seen it before. They are scattered all over the world’s forgotten, lost, outback places. It’s usually someplace hot and seldom visited, almost like they just forgot to leave or couldn’t, but you know there’s an interesting story hiding there. It’ll cost you a beer or two, but it’s always worth it. In Central America it’s liable to be ex-NSA or CIA assassin types. In French Polynesia it’s Gauloise-smoking, Pernod-drinking, four-day beard with the last couple of meals dribbled down his flowered shirt, unofficial “tour guide” types. Every anchorage we’ve ever been in has at least one boat looking more like a barely floating flea market than a yacht ready to cruise the oceans.

Entering the tricky pass into the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island I noticed a small faded red sloop tucked up close to the reef. They always have the choicest spots in an anchorage because they stay so long they take over the best spot as other yachts move on. The decks were piled high with “spares” but this boat had a more purposeful nautical look to it. I noticed that as the occupant moved around inside the little boat would list one way then another. It didn’t take long before a dreadlocked head appeared looking out of their companionway and up popped a well-muscled skipper barely covered with half a flowered sarong, sunned to a deep nut brown. 

For the next few hours he never stopped, methodically walking here and there while manually working a piece of line or some such thing. They say his name is ” Shipwreck” and he sports a metal shackle in each ear. He never stopped, never rushed, always took his time. The next day, as I passed by the little red sloop in the dink, up popped a beautiful, very thin woman with long black hair, sunned to that same dark nut brown but she seemed to favor tiny mixed bikinis, or a micro mini skirt just short of the “fine china”. We don’t judge. Some sort of project commenced out in the cockpit for the happy couple. I never saw them talk to each other. I mean, out on the water you can hear a whisper at 300 meters!

Every afternoon they silently assembled large duffle bags full of snorkeling and fishing gear from the bowels of the little red sloop, causing it to rock humorously, loaded them into incredibly narrow kayaks and paddled off in different directions. I assume they were gathering dinner on the reef. It’s a life. 

This morning I noticed the usual level of activity in the little red sloop had increased. It’s a sure sign someone is moving on and sure enough they sailed away from their anchor, tacked right past us and out the pass. I’m going to miss that little red sloop.
Fair winds, Shipwreck.

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Mind the gap

We’ve been absent from blogging for a long time and it weighs heavily on us both. The truth is, we’re in a funk and have been for more than half a year. It has nothing to do with cruising, the boat, Australia, our health and wellbeing or any other personal issue, but rather the ever more disturbing and mind-numbing news we hear out of America. 

Jack and I have always been news junkies and like to keep up with what’s going on in the world and being in a first world country with good internet access means we can read online the daily newspapers we’re familiar with along with our favorite weekly news magazines. In a way we’re grateful we don’t have American TV because the constant barrage of “breaking news” would be far too stressful. 

We know lots of people who disengage while cruising, and happily ignore domestic and world events in favor of a life lived in the here and now. In a way I admire those people and envy their zen bliss. We are not those people and the news from the other side of the world makes us sad. 

Maybe it’s because we grew up in the 1950s when patriotism and love of country reached their apex, when Cold War rhetoric drew a stark contrast between the democratic West and the communist East. Maybe it’s because we always thought of our country as the center of freedom and promise and compassion and refuge for the rest of the world. Maybe it’s because we’re proud of our system of government and how built-in checks and balances prevent any attempt at tyranny from succeeding. 

More personally for Jack and me, even growing up hundreds of miles apart in different cities, was a fascination and deep pride in America’s technological leadership, in the image of a future where discovery and science would make our lives safer, easier, healthier and more colorful. We can still feel the thrill of watching the flights of Alan Shepherd and then John Glenn prove that space travel was possible. The Jetsons was must-see TV. We learned on the evening news about flight trajectories, insulating materials, solar panels, space-age adhesives, and escape velocity. It all seemed fantastical and still does. What’s more, that was our country. Our universities and government recruited the best minds and provided whatever they needed to solve problems and make discoveries. Scientists and engineers were admired, respected, revered. We were the world leaders in scientific discovery and we were so proud. America took giant leaps for mankind, not just on the moon but in medicine, energy, biology, computer science. 

That is how we grew up thinking about our country, as a jet engine of advancement, tackling the world’s problems through education and invention. 

Now it’s clear that we have ceded our leadership in the world to other, more forward-thinking countries. Our scientists are scoffed at, ignored, defunded, or left to work in service of corporate profit instead of public good. We personally know many scientists who spent more than a decade acquiring their specialized education only to abandon their fields because funding only comes through decreasingly available grant money with too many strings attached. These are the best minds we have, now given little or no respect and no latitude for discovery. Our pharmaceutical labs and medical facilities are profit centers, where potential life-saving drugs or techniques aren’t pursued if someone can’t get rich on them. 

We continue to pollute the environment while other countries make policies to protect it. We ignore or suppress renewable energy sources and cling to the mining and burning of fossil fuels that scar the earth and poison the air, all so a few companies can pocket hideous profits. Our leaders denigrate advanced education and paint those who pursue knowledge as “elites.” This is particularly galling to me as the daughter of a woman who worked her way through college during the Great Depression so she could serve her community by becoming a teacher. My mother was not “elite” in any sense of the word, but she fulfilled the responsibility of American citizenship by becoming the best she could be and guiding younger generations through education. In the Sixties we took John Kennedy’s challenge to heart: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We felt a duty to “make something of ourselves” and contribute to the greater good.

Now we read almost daily of too many citizens who expect their government to do for them. Coal miners, for example, who lost their jobs because of automation and lower demand refuse to see the writing on the wall and move forward into new industries, insisting instead that the government “bring their jobs back.” They’ve been offered training in renewable energy technologies or other fields but won’t take advantage of it because it means doing something different. I guess it’s easier to complain and blame someone else for a changing world than to roll up your sleeves and adapt.

Our city of Pittsburgh is a perfect role model for them, where the century-old steel industry declined and after a period of political protests the steelworkers buckled down and retrained as nurses, lab technicians, computer programmers. Pittsburgh went from being the quintessential industrial Smoky City to an environmentally and technologically advanced city of the future. Instead of learning from Pittsburgh, too many people trapped in 19th and 20th century ways of thinking want our government to turn back time and coddle them with empty promises and special privilege. 

Life moves forward at a pretty fast pace and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. But our best and brightest can guide us on our path to the future if only we would let them. It’s a sad state of affairs when the leader of another country offers refuge and resources to American scientists because our own country won’t support and respect their work. This news was a particular gut punch for Jack and me, a humiliating confirmation that our country has completed its move to the dark side, where scientific pursuit is only supported if it results in corporate profit. The good of mankind and the health of the planet we all share is no longer a factor in political decisions. It makes us sad and plunged us into a deep funk. 

Our cruising friends from countries all over the world are astonished at the complete lack of political will to create a system of universal healthcare enjoyed by every other developed country. Why, they ask, do Americans not care about each other? They share our disappointment that America, once a beacon of hope and inspiration, has abandoned its leadership role in human rights, environmental protection and world peace. The image of America abroad is now of greed, arrogance, xenophobia, hate. We aren’t making this up. We’re confronted with it almost daily. It’s been a long time coming, but the final nails are hammered home. 

We’re still cruising. We still love our life afloat. We’re still taking beautiful photos of the places we see and the experiences we have. We’re still welcomed wherever we go. I only wanted to take a stab at explaining our absence from day-to-day blogging. We promise to renew our effort to share our travels. We have a lot to catch up on and we’ll post as we can. It may be all mixed up chronologically but we’ll slot things into date order. I hope you’ll stay with us. Thanks for reading. 


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I submit to drilling

It continues to be peaceful and beautiful at Lady Musgrave, with only the daily tour boat disturbing the calm for a few hours. By late afternoon it’s quiet again.

Hang out in any anchorage long enough and there’s a good chance sooner or later someone you know will show up. Jack was snoozing on the stadium seat, as you do, and I was below putzing when we heard a hail not in the distinctive Aussie dialect we’ve come accustomed to. It’s Dream Time with Americans-by-way-of-the-UK Catherine and Neville aboard, world cruisers who’ve been out for ten years so far, and whom we first met in Blackwattle Bay in Sydney last summer. Two boats are fun but three make a party and our time at Lady Musgrave took on a different tone for the next few days.

We’re now the international group we’ve grown accustomed to, representing England, Northern Ireland, Germany and the US. We have a lot to share and catch up on and the rotating sundowner venues add some much-missed variety into our cruising.

Jack is working on his embouchure and getting better every day on the trumpet shell he bought in Fiji. It’s now his sacred obligation to mark the end of the day with two long basso tones. 

The crews of Blackwattle and Dream Time were concerned about my thumb, which was looking pretty gross and which continued to throb from the pressure of the initial bleeding under the nail. Neville seemed eager to break out the Dremel  and show his considerable skill honed from the breathtaking carving he does on found objects, from nautilus shells to emu eggs. How could I refuse an artist with a power tool? With Peter supplying task lighting and Neville grinding away at my thumb Catherine took our minds off the procedure by recounting tales of gross injuries she’s suffered. Never let it be said that cruisers don’t have the best fun.

After a few days Blackwattle needed to move on so Peter could catch a flight back to Sydney leaving Christian to singlehand his way north. We’re sad to lose their company but we know we’ll cross paths again before too long.


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On the reef

This is the first time in nearly a year that we’ve been in a lagoon inside an encircling reef and the memories of all our beautiful Pacific atoll anchorages are swirling in my brain. The only difference here is the temperature, much cooler than our tropical landfalls. We determined the water is too cold for us to snorkel without wetsuits (perpetually on the list but so far not acquired) but we enjoyed seeing the photos the crew of Blackwattle took when they explored the various bommies. 

Our crystalline blue sky weather continues day after day and we’re delighted to have the the sun top up our batteries by noon, and the water tank filled up every day with the watermaker running on solar power. 

Christian of Blackwattle makes himself at home on EV’s stadium seat.

The crew of Blackwattle joined us for sundowners the first night and while I was showing off our well-insulated fridge and freezer I accidentally slammed the freezer lid on my thumb. Ouch! Peter said I should drill a small hole through the thumbnail to release the pressure of the obvious copious bleeding under the nail. Double ouch! Christian countered with the suggestion to heat a heavy needle and burn a hole through the nail instead. Triple ouch! That led Peter to declare that there are two kinds of people in the world, burners and drillers. I decided I was neither and took some painkillers to dull the throbbing. 

Landing on the small island involved a circuitous putt-putt in the dinghy through a marked channel across the reef to a crunchy shoreline. We hoped we’d timed it right, because if we went at high tide the receding water would leave our heavy dink high and dry on the sharp coral. At low tide we ran the risk of the dink getting swamped by the incoming water. We met a young couple with a small child on the beach who had badly mistimed it and were trying to stay comfortable in the midday sun and amuse themselves while they waited 3 or 4 hours for their beached dinghy to float again. 

The path across the island is beautiful but the real attraction is the reef. 

A wide bank of dead coral forms a solid buttress against the ocean swell. At high tide waves tumble over into the lagoon leaving small sea creatures and nourishing patches of live coral. A healthy reef will grow bigger on both the sea and lagoon sides as new coral sprouts and branches. 

We spent lazy days enjoying the relative solitude of the reef. Blackwattle borrowed our kayaks for a blustery tour of the island, and Jack busied himself with polishing the stainless. One night we had a mini dinghy raftup for sundowners just to change things up a bit. This is boatlife at its finest. 

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This is what we came for

You don’t have to cruise Australia long before you start hearing about Lady Musgrave Island. Safe to say the pecking order of national obsession would be…well, fishing would have to be first and maybe Vegemite, then rugby, but if you’re going to fish, Lady Musgrave is the place to be. In many ways it reminds me of Minerva Reef which is also a lagoon but much bigger than Lady Musgrave which, unlike Minerva, also has a small island attached to one end of the reef. 

After a heavy provisioning run at Urangan Harbour, we and Blackwattle formed a convoy and with the light winds predicted, left for Lady Musgrave Island with plenty of time for an over night sail expecting some motoring in diminishing wind. Entering the famously tight and shallow pass into the lagoon had to be done during high tide with a lookout on the bow due to the many bommies that are scattered throughout the lagoon.

As soon as we cleared Fraser Island the wind filled in. Not a lot of wind but at just the right angle that Escape Velocity loves. Soon we were romping along at 7-8kts, which would put us at the tricky pass at 2:00 am. Not good. For a change we’re having a romping good sail and we have to shorten sail to slow down! Escape Velocity had different ideas about slowing down however. We turned up into the wind four times to shorten sail and finally had Marce’s Logo reef which exposes only the Manta Logo at the top of the sail and our 90 percent blade jib. At midnight change of watch I was instructed to average no faster than 4.5kts. So I started to spill most of the wind we had but she still was making 5-5.5kts. When EV gets in this mood she’s a force to be reckoned with. 

I could see Blackwattle on the chart plotter marked with an AIS purple triangle and they were having none of this slow down stuff, barreling along at 8kts and angling to go east over the top of Lady Musgrave, probably thinking to heave-to once they make the pass. Catamarans don’t like to heave-to but it dawned on me to angle up into the wind a bit, which added distance and slowed us down. Yes, that’s the ticket. Now I won’t have to endure off watches’ disapproving looks in the morning. 

By 8:30am, a little early for high tide, we were lining up the red and green gate markers at the pass which were quite confusing and looked nothing like our latest charts. Things often look confusing until you get in close to a pass. No, nothing matches up, it’s completely different but it looks like it’ll work. You quickly learn to read the colors of the water or you’ll soon come to grief as so many have in these parts. We’re looking for deep blueish turquoise with as little tanish or sand color as we can stand. There were over-falls with roiling water everywhere except in the narrowing pass, obviously hacked through the surrounding coral reef. Through another set of gates and our Ovitalmaps satellite photo warned of a large bommie that drys out at low tide, but now appeared as an ominous dark brownish color just below the surface and situated dead center like a sentinel guarding the glowing iridescent turquoise lagoon. 

Using the Ovital satellite shots on the iPad, we made our way over to where we wanted to anchor. Somewhat relieved to have the hook down, we noticed a sailboat aiming right at us. It was Impetuous Too, friends we first met in Fiji’s Blue Lagoon, who were just leaving after two weeks and hadn’t realized that we’d just arrived.  Even though we wouldn’t be able to spend time with them it was a great start to our stay at Lady Musgrave Island. 

In a few hours Blackwattle joined us and anchored a discreet distance away. Can’t wait to explore this incredibly beautiful place. Now this is what we came for.

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More Fraser

None of us has the means or interest in hiring a 4WD vehicle for a more wide-ranging tour of huge Fraser Island, so we just hiked along the beach and followed one of the many trails inland. I can see why the island attracts so many tourists, mostly on the outer, ocean side, but we were happy to enjoy the continuing fine weather in our own little world and only ran into a few resort guests on walkabout. 

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T-shirts and shallow water

Garry’s anchorage is the most calm and peaceful place we’ve dropped the hook in a long time. It was so still that I woke up several times overnight thinking maybe we were aground. 

We’re at the southern end of Fraser Island, the largest all-sand island in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This calls for some hiking of course, and we went ashore with Christian and Peter to explore. 

It’s a big island, and while the trails are nice and mostly level, the scenery didn’t change much mile after mile and we spent a few hours mostly chattering away and solving the world’s problems. There are a few destinations on this end of Fraser but much too far to walk. Christian has been here several times and he said most people explore on 4-wheel drive vehicles to see the lakes and beaches. 

At one point we could see a lake in the distance but there was no way to get to it from where we were. So it was back to the anchorage to plan our trip up the Great Sandy Straits to the northern end of Fraser. 

The next day dawned just as still and we poked our way through very shallow water for hours, slowing down through various pinch points, following marker after marker. The Straits are significant, my internet sources tell me, as critical breeding grounds for all kinds of wetlands species and there is a subtle beauty to the landscape but for boaters it’s just a pain in the butt to navigate the distance, watching the markers, timing the tide and avoiding the ubiquitous local fishermen who know the shallow parts like the backs of their hands and zip around with impunity. For Christian, whose boat has a deep draft, it was a tense day. For us, a little less so because we are shallow, but still, it was a long, slow slog to our anchorage just south of a resort before Hervey Bay opens up. 

It’s another quiet anchorage, and no sooner did we get Escape Velocity settled in but our phone dinged. It was Christian on Blackwattle letting us know there’s a dingo on the beach, heading our way. 

At last we’re seeing some of the famous Aussie wildlife right in front of us! 

Christian suggested sundowners on the beach. It was the perfect end to the day, and we finally feel like we’re back to the kind of cruising that made us choose this life five years ago. 

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Do be careful

The closer we came to Wide Bay Bar the more extreme were the reactions whenever we mentioned that we were heading that way. You know, the eyes widen, brows arch, the lips purse and you get the old standby, “well, be careful” as if we’re not being careful. We always seem catch each other’s eye with a look that says you can’t be more careful than we’re already being. Can’t say it doesn’t have a cumulative effect though. 

Our new friends on Blackwattle seemed to take all this with a blasé attitude. At sundowners we’d found out that they were headed that way in the morning but because we’d need high tide to get out of Mooloolaba basin, down the Mooloolah River, and most especially over the shoaling shifting Mooloolah Bar we’d never make it to Wide Bay Bar by slack high tide or for that matter even in the daylight. The Blackwattles suggested overnighting at a roadstead anchorage called Rainbow Beach, twelve miles shy of Wide Bay Bar. We’ll follow you.

Negotiating the Mooloolaba bar in the morning caused the usual rise in blood pressure. After passing the dredger you turn hard left around the stone block jetty, running parallel to the beach and then think a few kind thoughts before turning right to head out into the Coral Sea. We kept pace sailing with Blackwattle until the breeze began to fail and we started motorsailing. When we came around Double Island Point headland we dropped sail and while we could see Blackwattle’s purple AIS triangle on our chart plotter, we couldn’t find her against the incredible vastness of Rainbow Beach’s surrounding high cliffs. 

After running for what felt like hours we saw them right in front of us. At sundown we exchanged the latest information and new GPS coordinates and backtimed our morning departure to arrive at the bar entrance on the right tide. We all agreed to be “careful.”

True to form, even though the conditions were quite benign, there were breaking waves on both sides of us as we made the hard left turn right on top of the GPS waypoint. Must be some kind of surf spot. Blackwattle had made it through there enough before us that they weren’t much help checking the GPS waypoints but I had made waypoints from the AIS as they made their way in on the chart plotter. Waypoints or no, it was still a long and impressive bar entrance. We decided to bypass Tin Can Bay and make for Garry’s Anchorage on Fraser Island, another fourteen miles up the incredibly shallow Great Sandy Straits which is really more of a kind of river/estuary. Anchor splashed and Sundowners on Blackwattle. Ah, the serenity. Life is good.

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North to Mooloolaba

Don’t you just love these names? 

For weeks we’ve been hearing a notice to mariners on the VHF radio about the river bar at Mooloolaba. One side is silted up pretty badly and boaters are advised to enter at a steep angle from the other side, avoiding the dredger working at the breakwater. We tossed around the idea of doing an overnighter all the way up to Wide Bay Bar, which would put us much closer to the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef and maybe some warmer weather, but true to form, the winds just aren’t steady enough in a favorable direction to sail most of the way, and the thought of having to listen to a diesel engine for 24 hours doesn’t  suit our style. So the decision was made to continue to day-hop our way northward. Slower, for sure, but quieter. 

From our horribly rolly anchorage at Tangalooma we followed the shipping channel out of Moreton Bay, then motorsailed north to the bar entrance at Mooloolaba. Luckily there were a few boats of various sizes stacked up to enter so we could follow their track in with no problem. Weeks earlier a friend hit bottom at the bar, got off, entered safely then struck a channel marker, doing some serious rig damage. We were happy to get in unscathed. The no-wind part is bad for sailing but mighty nice for crossing river bars because there’re no rollicking seas to contend with at these shallow bars.

It’s a long slow run over thin water past a few marinas to the crowded anchorage. We recognized Blackwattle, our Brisbane neighbor and dropped the hook nearby. 

Jack took up the binoculars to scope for a dinghy dock, as we could use some fresh produce and a walkabout. We haven’t been off the boat since we left the marina! What he saw disappointed us: the cruisers were landing their dinghies on the beach and pulling them up beyond the high tide mark. Ugh. We hate that. Our dinghy is big and heavy and the shape of the stern precludes us getting a set of wheels to help with wet landings. We couldn’t believe that in a town the size of Mooloolaba with so many boats there isn’t a public dinghy dock. 

I did what any self-respecting modern woman does, posted a plea for local knowledge on a private Facebook group for Women Who Sail Australia. Eureka! Within minutes we had a few suggestions on places where we could tie up our dinghy at a dock and avoid the dreaded wet landing. Thank you, WWSA!

Once ashore we babied our wobbly legs and took a leisurely stroll along the Esplanade in search of gelato and found the best we’ve had since New Zealand in April. 

We picked up our groceries and as we headed back to EV we saw that the skipper of Blackwattle was out in the cockpit. We stopped by to say hello and learned that he is in fact singlehanding, but was expecting a friend to join him later that day. We invited them both for sundowners the next day, and what fun we had! They’re both Germans but longtime Sydney residents who met through their sailing club. We also learned that their cruising plans, at least for the next few steps, coincide with our loose plans so we got to share information and ideas and mapped out a plan for the Wide Bay Bar crossing into the Great Sandy Straits and Fraser Island. It’s so good to be in the company of cruisers again! 

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