A Woman Who Sails

This article has first appeared in February 2015 issue 233 of Caribbean Compass. You can find it on-line on pages 26-27.

 

Bev Cory aboard S/V Aseka

Bev Cory aboard S/V Aseka

A Woman Who Sails

by Mira Nencheva

After a few hours of uneventful sailing from Antigua to Guadeloupe, we arrive in Deshaies, the first bay on the northwest side of the island. We are excited to find our sailing buddies, Caryn and Mel aboard S/V Passages already there. Deshaies is a small charming fishermen village with a few restaurants along the shore, souvenir shops and a small boulangerie offering delicious French baguettes and pastries. We are greeted by the monotonous song of the bells from the bell tower of the small church etched against the dark evergreen mountain.

Desaies

Desaies

After checking-in, we decide to do a little river exploration and hike to a small waterfall not far from the village with our friends Mel and Caryn. We invite the crews of the two other boats in the anchorage, Mark and Tina aboard S/V Rainbow and Bev aboard S/V Aseka to come along. We are now an impressive group of cruisers walking through the forest looking for a waterfall.

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Soon it is nothing but giant trees, roots like snakes, extravagant ferns and black butterflies. The morning sunlight can only pierce tiny shafts of white light through the holes of the forest roof disturbing the heavy humid shade of the canopy above. Trees and rocks and muck and more roots and the hush sound of the small river gurgling down among grey boulders covered with eternal moss. There are crabs rushing back to their dark holes in the soft ground, paranoid little lizards hiding behind branches, and further in the distance, a small pond with green tranquil water inviting us for a few minutes of chill-down.

Cruisiers in the pond

Cruisiers in the pond

The hike proves longer and harder than we have expected. Almost everyone is wearing flip-flops, as we thought it’s going to be a few minutes’ walk in the park. Instead, we are jumping over huge slippery boulders inside the stream for over an hour and still no waterfall. We start getting worried. Are we on the right path (if this can be called a path)? Frankly, I am also worried for our friends. What if someone trips over a slippery rock and breaks a leg? Mel is helping Caryn, Tina has Mark for assistance, and Ivo is taking care of Maya and me at the most difficult places: across boulders, fallen trees and fast-running water. But Bev, in her fifties, is on her own the entire time. Yet it doesn’t look like she needs any assistance at all. Cheerful, she skips form rock to rock with great energy, chatting with us all the time.

Mel and Caryn

Mel helping Caryn

– Bev, how come you are sailing around alone? I am curious.
– I just wanted to go sailing, that’s it. I have been sailing for 35 years now. It’s my life.

Bev

Bev

Beverly Cory-Bev was born in Auckland, New Zealand. Her father was a Construction Engineer and his job meant constantly moving from place to place, with the entire family. Bev went to 21 different schools in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England, and Algeria by the time she was 19. She got used to traveling and she enjoyed the errant ways of her family; it became natural to her.

– One day, when I was 19, an old boyfriend I used to surf with, took me sailing. It turned out it’s a racing yacht and we went out racing! Suddenly I was pulling lines, cranking winches, packing a spinnaker. The crew thought I had experience. But I have never been on a sailboat before, I told them. The captain looked at me, I will never forget this moment, and said: You will. Next thing you know, I dumped the boyfriend, quit my job, and went sailing on an old Dutchman’s boat who needed a crew. He taught me everything about sailing. I was doing what I wanted to do.

After years of cruising around Australia, New Zealand, United States and the Caribbean, after two boats: one 36 Van de Stadt, which she built and one Tayana 37, and after a couple of lousy husbands (“My mum told me I wasn’t good at it – so don’t do it again (the husband thing)!”), Bev is now cruising alone on Aseka, a 2005 Maxim 380 catamaran built in Durbin. The design of the boat is ideal for singlehandling. All lines come in the cockpit so Bev can adjust the sails and reef easily while at the helm. She can also drop and lift anchor all by herself with the help of a windlass controlled from the cockpit.

– Lifting the anchor is the riskiest procedure, since I have to also flake the chain. I tend to stay clear of other boats when anchoring, so I don’t drift down on them as I clear my anchor.
I wait to be clear of boats when I hoist the sails.
I reef early.

So far, she hasn’t had any troubles sailing singlehanded and visiting places alone, but she needs to be extra careful. There are places where she won’t walk around alone, and places she prefers to sail to with crew, like Columbia, where Bev is heading soon.

– My longest solo passage was from Puerto Rico to Bonaire, 60 hours. At night I would sleep for 15 minutes, wake up, check everything, and sleep for 15 more minutes.

Sometimes, Bev invites friends or friends of friends to help with the longer and more difficult passages, but most of the time she prefers sailing alone.

Inside S/V Aseka

Inside S/V Aseka

– You do get used to being by yourself. I prefer not to have to rely on other people. Others don’t care about the boat like I do, It’s my life. When I have people over, they act as if they are on a holiday and it’s a big party. But this is not a charter boat and I am not their servant. They come to crew and they have to cover their expenses.

When Bev was 21, for 2 years she crewed on a private 3 masted square rigger Brigantine with 10 sails- the foremast alone had 27 lines. Traditionally rigged, there were no winches, just block and tackle. They sailed New Zealand then across to Australia. She was the sailing master, in charge of deck and sails.

When she was 23, Bev worked for 2 years as a deckhand on a prawn (shrimp) boat. She was the only woman on a commercial fishing vessel in that fleet. It took the other boats six months to accept her, constantly watching her.

– But when they finally did accept me I had so many big brothers it was ridiculous.
You do some crazy things when you are 20…

This included driving mining trucks in a uranium mine and being the first woman in Australia to work on an oil rig as a radio operator, which she did on and off for 2 years.

Later, Bev became ERP analyst setting up software systems for copper and gold mines throughout Australia, the Pacific, and Africa. She worked and lived in The Congo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Zambia, and South Africa. When she wasn’t working she went backpacking.

But sailing was always what she wanted to do. She bought S/V Aseka when she was working in Burkina Faso. The name means ‘to prosper’ in the local Burkinable language.

– People think I am ‘strange’ for sailing solo. My mother thinks I am crazy. I think it’s crazier when inexperienced males try to tell me what to do.
You are asking me what the hardest thing is for a singlehanded cruising woman like me. The hardest thing is not having someone to go diving with.

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Finally we hear the muffled voice of a waterfall. The sound grows loud and heavy as if the fall is coming down for us. It’s a small cascade hidden in a canyon behind black rocks that rise suddenly, covered with abundant tropical vegetation. The long painful hike was worth it. We scramble through a deep pool and after one last vertical climb we reach the place where the water rushes down from its rock walls with great force and determination. We shower under its might holding on to our shorts.

Bev enjoying the small waterfall near Deshais

Bev enjoying the small waterfall near Deshais

I start thinking. I imagine myself alone on our boat, adjusting the sails, pulling the lines, reefing, dropping and lifting anchor while steering, fixing the engine… I am not too good with driving a dinghy by myself, let alone a boat. I have always relied on my husband for the more technical and physically challenging parts. I have always been just a “deck hand”, never the “sailing master”. I feel ashamed.

I admire Bev and she inspires me to learn more about our own boat, about sailing and navigating; to get more involved with the entire process of sailing.

If Bev can do it, I can do it. All women can.

Bev aboard S/V Aseka

Bev aboard S/V Aseka

 

 

You can see what TheLifeNomadik are doing and follow them on Facebook at The Life Nomadik

Other articles by Mira Nencheva published in Caribbean Compass (read on-line):

Three Reasons Why Not to Sail to Barbuda – issue 230 November, 2014 –  p.16-19 (front cover photo)

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: One Year After the Attack  –  issue 230, November, 2014 – p. 26-27

Saba The Impossible Island – issue 231, December, 2014 – p.21-23

My School is Not a Building, by Maya – issue 231, December, 2014 – p.32

Dominica: Many Rivers to Cross  – issue 232, January, 2015 – p.21-23

Trinidad is Definitely for the Birds – issue 233, February, 2015 – p.21-22

A Woman Who Sails – issue 233, February, 2015 – p.26-27

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Run Barbados

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Ivo and Mel have been running in the mornings 2-3 times a week since we started cruising together with S/V Passages in Guadeloupe in August 2014. Keeping in shape is harder when living on a boat, as movement is restricted and one needs to be very determined and disciplined in order to remain active and healthy. But Ivo and Mel have not been jogging merely to keep in shape. They have been training. You see, Mel is an experienced marathon runner participating in 50 to 90 km marathons in African deserts and all over the world and he gave Ivo a great incentive for more serious running. So here we are sailing together from island to island, Ivo and Mel running up and down the hills everywhere.

Ivo and Mel running in Trinidad

Ivo and Mel running in Trinidad

One morning in Grenada, after a few weeks of this intensive training, Ivo had the most terrible dream, a horrible nightmare.

– We were running Mel and I, in a 25 kilometer marathon in Barbados and I was almost dead from exhaustion, but Mel was pulling me and dragging me by the hand, telling me: ”Come on Ivo, you can do it!” Then I woke up.

We laughed at the absurdity of the nightmare.
After Grenada we sail to Trinidad and spend there a couple of weeks, then on to Tobago. In Tobago we wait for favorable winds to cross north to Barbados, an island Ivo has been dreaming to visit since he was a kid, even though the weather hasn’t allow us to do so for a while. But the wind finally turns slightly from east-southeast and the two boats set sail for Barbados.

We are in Barbados!

We are in Barbados!

After one night and one day of joyful sailing, close to wind but at least not tacking, we arrive in Bridgetown, the main port of the island that stands alone on the edge of the Atlantic.
Barbados is an island 12 by 14 miles formed by the collision of two geological plates and volcanic eruptions, which makes it a unique land formation isolated from the rest of the Caribbean islands 90 NM to the east from St Vincent.
Once populated by Arawak and Carib Indians, who sailed the dangerous sea currents around Trinidad in their small dug-out canoes, Barbados remained unnoticed by Columbus and for a while was spared the great euphoria of the New World, until Portuguese sailors discovered the island en route to Brazil. They named it Barbados- “The Bearded Ones” after the bushy fig trees that grew on the island.
But the first ones to claim it were the English in 1625, when Captain John Powell landed on its shores. In 1639 the colonists established a House of Assembly in Jamestown making Barbados the third Parliamentary Democracy in the world. Followed the plantation period, as everywhere else in the Caribbean and the Americas. Three hundred years later slavery was abolished and in 1966 Barbados became an independent country, member of the Commonwealth with strong British tradition and heritage.

Bridgetown

Bridgetown

In Bridgetown port we are greeted by the customs and immigration officials who seem very nice, very welcoming and very relaxed people. The checking in procedures take some time as we have to wait for the customs people to show up, then we listen to the immigration officer’s many interesting stories, and then we have to fill by hand a bunch of documents, crew lists, and declarations. Which is what we cruisers do best. I’m not complaining.
Next, we sail from Bridgetown Port to the anchorage in front of Pebbles Beach- our new home for the next few days. It’s a rolly anchorage, even for us on the catamaran.

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The next day we walk around the town with Caryn and Mel admiring the canal surrounded by old colonial buildings, checking out some impressive duty-free shopping centers, and the guys sign up for an epic run. Ivo’s dream is about to come true!

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There is an organized marathon event every year in Barbados and we have arrived just in time for the Saturday 10-kilometer run. It’s all a very peculiar coincidence.

Run Barbados 2014

Run Barbados 2014

Run Barbados started in 1983 and since then has hosted world rated runners including runners form Africa, England, United States, the Caribbean every year. The event spans over three days with various distance runs: the POWERade Fun Mile and International Friendship Run on Friday, POWERade 10k and 3k runs on Saturday, half marathon (22.5km) and Run Barbados 5k on Sunday.
Our guys sign up for the Saturday 10k run. The organization of the event is beyond belief impeccable and the turnout is fantastic- hundreds of participants from around the world. Streets are blocked, police cars are stationed, reporters are awaiting, cameras are rolling. The signal is given and the herd of over three hundred runners charge Bay Street heading all the way to Spring Gardens Hwy and back.

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After only about half an hour the first runner crosses the finish line. Mel arrives after about 40 minutes, and Ivo is 10 minutes behind him. A truly proud moment.

Ivo and Mel

Ivo and Mel

Ivo has just become “the fastest Bulgarian in Barbados”. We celebrate with free fruits and Powerrade drinks on the beach.

Ivo after the Run

Ivo after the Run

The next days in Barbados we spend visiting some of the tourist attractions this unique island has to offer: the famous and very popular Harrison’s cave, the not-so-famous full with cockroaches, spiders and centipedes Cole’s cave, and beautiful Bathsheeba- a fishermen village on the east side with stunning rocky shoreline and beaches, famous among surfers.

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Tobago

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Tobago is the smaller of the two main islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is located in the southern Caribbean, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada, outside the hurricane belt. Tobago has a land area of 300 km² and is approximately 40 km long and 10 km wide.

 

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Sailing to Tobago from Trinidad proves slower than we expected, heading northeast, very close to wind. We have calculated that if we leave on Thursday in the afternoon from Chacachacare and sail all night we should arrive in time on Friday and check-in before 4 p.m., as we thought there will be an overtime charge for late checking-in if we arrive after 4 p.m. or on the weekend. We are not sure if the overtime charge is 100 $US per boat, or per person, but it is an amount of money we would rather avoid paying. But we are sailing too slow and it looks like we will be late.

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Our friends on S/V Passages, Mel and Caryn, who have been with us every day for the past 4 months and sailing about a mile behind us, agree on the VHF radio that we don’t have many options. We have to motor-sail the last 16 miles if we want to make it on time. The fuel will cost not more than 5$. Yet, Ivo doesn’t like the idea of motoring. A dark cloud of shame and misery envelopes him. Finally he tells me: “Do what you want…” Like an old dictator defeated by circumstances, yet proud, he cannot make the shameful decision and give the order. He wants me to do it. I turn on the engines. He sits alone on the bow of the boat, the farthest point away from the unbearable sound of the propellers, bursting from inside.It has been over one year now since we motored for so long, and it was because of a storm.

We get in the anchorage at Store Bay around 3 p.m., but we need to take a taxi and literally run to the Customs and then to Immigration in order to make it before 4. We do all this running like a small heard on the streets of Scarborough together with Mel and Caryn for the sheer amazement of the locals, only to realize at the end, that there isn’t any overtime fee when sailing between Trinidad and Tobago…The fee is when you are arriving from another country… Anyway…

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We spend only a few days in Tobago, a small island invaded by bamboo trees and vary loud annoying birds called Cocrico, Tobago’s national bird, which serenade us in the mornings. The first time we heard them we thought some weird construction machines are invading the shores.

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Here we found the most beautiful beach, not far from the anchorage at Store Bay- Pigeon Point. Pink sand and palm trees leaning over delicious blue water.

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

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We also share a car with our friends Mel and Caryn and tour the entire island, stopping here and there, visiting many fishermen villages, beaches and bays, a small waterfall, enjoying a nice day on the road, even though it is raining most of the time.

 

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Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Many fishermen in Tobago still use traditional long bamboo fishing poles, one hung from each side of their boats. They show us how to clean fish. We learn something every day…

 

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In Tobago, like in Trinidad, the bamboo imported from Asia during the colonial period, has invaded the entire island. Beautiful bamboo forests are everywhere and people use the tree for construction, art, and to make fishing poles and all sorts of other useful things.

Bamboo in Tobago

Bamboo in Tobago

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The economy of Tobago is heavily dependent on Trinidad’s booming natural gas and oil economy. Locally, tourism and fishing are most important.

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Tobago is a much smaller much quieter island than Trinidad and we appreciated its authentic Caribbean atmosphere and tranquility, friendly people, and beautiful nature.

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Our journey in Tobago ended with a nice dinner in the small beach restaurant near the anchorage, where Mel and Caryn invited us for dinner. They had too many of the local Trinidad and Tobago dollars left, and needed to liquidate them before leaving the country and heading to Barbados. We were happy to help with the liquidation of Mel and Caryn’s TT$ and enjoyed some local fish and beers. Thank you guys!

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Fun Things to See and Do in Trinidad

After visiting The Pitch Lake and The Sea Temple in Trinidad with our friends Mel and Caryn S/V Passages, we also shared a drive to the Northern Range and spent a day birdwatching near the Arima Valley.

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Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge is a nature resort and scientific research station where we found ourselves surrounded by Yellowtails, Manakins and tiny hummingbirds of all colors coming to eat fresh fruits and to drink sugar water from the feeders. The place, 1, 500 acres of forested land, is so magnificent, we felt as if we were in the Garden of Eden.

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In the afternoon we managed to drive some more and arrive at the Caroni Swamp park in time for a guided tour of the large wetland of the Caroni river delta located on the west coast of Trinidad. Here tourists from around the world come to watch the Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad’s national bird.

Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad

Scarlet Ibis, Trinidad

The Scarlet Ibis resembles the American white ibis, but its remarkably brilliant scarlet coloration makes it unmistakable. It has protected status everywhere on the planet.

The motorboat we were in with a bunch of other tourists took us to a place where the birds come to sleep at night in the trees of a small island and we witnessed the most spectacular event: flocks of Scarlet Ibis flying in V-formations started to arrive just before sunset, and gradually the small green island in front of us became peppered with bright red birds, like rose blossoms.

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Another place we enjoyed visiting in Trinidad was the Bamboo Cathedral. Bamboo is an invasive species introduced on the island from Asia and it is now everywhere. Forests of bamboo.

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The locals use it for construction, for musical instruments, for carved souvenirs and for all sorts of things. For us driving around and walking surrounded by tall bamboo trees was another beautiful experience. And of course, Ivo had to prove he still had his monkey powers.

Ivo up in the Bamboo Cathedral

Ivo up in the Bamboo Cathedral

A few days later, we had the honor to visit a Christmas celebration with cruising and local friends in the Queen’s Park Oval– the largest cricket stadium ground in the West Indies, located in Port of Spain.

This stadium which the locals call “the Oval” has hosted more Test matches than any other ground in the Caribbean, including many World Series Cricket games in 1979 and matches of the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Considered by many players, journalists and critics as one of the most picturesque cricket venues, the ground had hosted many first class tours as early as the 1897.
Here we listened to live music performed by local musicians, among which a steelpan band. Traditionally, steelpans have been built from used oil barrels with hummers. The history of the steelpan music is fascinating.

Steelpan Band, Trinidad

Steelpan Band, Trinidad

After the French Revolution French planters immigrated to Trinidad bringing along their slaves from Martinique, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Dominica, establishing a local community and importing the tradition of Carnival with them. The slaves could not take part in Carnival, so they formed their own celebration called Canboulay. The makeshift musical instruments which they used were made from bamboo sticks, frying pans, dustbin lids, bottles and spoons, and oil drums made by 55-gallon used oil barrels, as the oil industry on the island was picking up speed. The tradition of the steelpans developed and grew.

In 1951 the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), formed to attend the Festival of Britain, was the first steelband whose instruments were all made from oil drums.

But our favorite musical event in Trinidad remains the piano-evening we organized at the marina in TTSA, Chaguaramas.

Every Monday at around 6 p.m., the cruisers from the anchorage gather on the patio of the marina for a potluck BBQ bringing tasty homemade delights to share. We loved this tradition and participated every time while in Trinidad.

Getting the BBQ ready

Getting the BBQ ready

But one particular Monday we had Stamen playing the piano for us. Stamen is another Bulgarian full-time sailor and cruiser aboard S/V Gaia, together with his wife Durita from Norway. He is also a professional piano and organ player whom we met in Trinidad and hope to meet again someday, some place. Stamen installed his electrical piano near the long table and played for the cruisers, about a dozen of us, all evening and well into the night, starting with some classical pieces: Beethoven, Mozart and Bah, and then on to old evergreen songs like Hotel California, Let it Be, and even some Christmas carols. He can play any tune as long as someone sings the first couple of notes, and he did. We were all singing in between eating and drinking, and we didn’t want the night to end.

Stamen, S/V Gaia

Stamen, S/V Gaia

Other places we enjoyed visiting in Trinidad were the big shopping centers, the cinema and the Saturday Market in Port of Spain, where early in the morning farmers are selling all sorts of produce, fish and meat at very low prices.

"Feet" Port of Spain, Trinidad, Saturday Market

“Feet” Port of Spain, Trinidad, Saturday Market

We also loved the local food and tried the best roti in town as well as the best doubles. Actually, only I loved them, Ivo and Maya were not so enthusiastic, especially about the doubles, which look like puke served in a piece of paper and are very spicy.

Mira getting a double

Mira getting a double

Maya was also very happy in the anchorage in Trinidad where she found a new friend, James S/V Margy, and would spend every minute with him, studying side by side in the morning outside on the terrace of the TTSA marina, riding a bike and playing videogames the rest of the time.

Maya's school in Trinidad

Maya’s school in Trinidad

Maya and James

Maya and James

Before we left Trinidad for Tobago, we sailed to Chacachacare, a small island just 8 miles from Venezuela. Chacachacare is an abandoned uninhabited island, once a leper colony, covered in dry tropical vegetation: Manchineel trees, cacti and aloes.

The Doctor's House

The Doctor’s House

We dropped anchor near the long pier in front of a building that was once a sanatorium and we explore the shores. There are a few abandoned ruins of buildings on the island reclaimed by nature: the Leper Asylum, the doctor’s house, the nun’s quarters and other houses, and exploring them is both exiting and dangerous. They even had a road, sections of which still can be found in the forest.

Mira at the steps of one of the ruins in Chacachacare

Mira at the steps of one of the abandoned buildings in Chacachacare

The island was abandoned by the 1980s when the nuns left their quarters and when the last leper that was on the island died in 1984. The colony had been abandoned since.

Today, Chacachacare remains uninhabited except for staff maintaining the Lighthouse still functioning on the island and the Hindu Temple founded in 1945 which continues to be functional with religious activities.

Pier

Pier and leper asylum

In 1999, Donald Trump visited Chacachacare during the Miss Universe contest and thought of having a casino and hotel built on the island, which never happened.

After Chacachacare, we left Trinidad, an island we enjoyed visiting so much, and sailed northeast to Tobago.

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