8 January 2003 (Update #38 )... Happy New Year everyone!
We seem to have slipped right through the 2002 year end holidays before we knew they were gone. We've been busy getting ready to leave, but in hindsight I'm not too sure what exactly we've done. Our planned end-of-year letter just didn't happen, so we offer this first-of-the-year note as a substitute.
December brought some cold weather to the Keys (definitely not mentioned in the Paradise brochure!). So we put away the screen enclosure and re-installed the clear plastic one. I'm not sure just how useful the screen really was since we left the entry closure open all the time. I can just hear the bugs: "Hey guys, looks like Hotel Goosebumps is open. Let's go check in!" Now we have our winter 'sun room' back in place. Gotta love stepping out into an 80 degree cockpit when the wind is whistling by at 60 degrees or lower.
Celia has been sewing like crazy and we now have the plastic enclosure slightly modified to offer chafe resistance to the main sheet. When we tried to cross the Gulf Stream back in February of last year we got a lot of wear on it in just a matter of hours. The strip of tough plastic fabric Celia installed (SailRite calls the material CoverLite) was a bit of a fight and managed to bend several needles. But we prevailed. Yes we... took both of us working on opposite sides of the machine to feed the enclosure through as Celia also guided it past the needle. Yuk!
She also made sun shades that match the 3 aft openings of the cockpit enclosure. They went a lot easier as did the covers for the 4 hatches. The coolest things she made are the Phifertex pockets (same see-thru material she used for our side window covers) that are installed on the ends of the settees. They hold books we're reading and the log. She also did a 10" x 5' version for the aft cabin that gathers up a lot of odds and ends that filled a bag on the aft cabin floor. Since it interfered with the hanging locker door, we removed the door so she could still get to jackets without a fight.
Part of getting ready has been to resolve several annoyances we've had since leaving the Chesapeake. We replaced the flooded cell batteries with AGM (absorbed glass mat) which are a sealed, maintenance-free design (look under Goosebumps/Electrical for more than you ever wanted to hear about the electrical system on the Goose...). We also wrestled with our old issue of whether to add a wind generator or additional solar panels to minimize engine time for battery charging. Solar panels won the day based on opinion of several cruisers and we ordered a 120 watt Kyocera for a total of 280 watts. We have enough space that we can add one more if we have to. We also installed a much better solar panel regulator so that we could be assured of getting the most out of the panels.
Celia has been working hard on pantry storage in the starboard aft cabin. She decided the arrangement she improvised as we left Ft. Myers (plastic crates laid on their side, lashed together with tie-wraps, with bungee cord for closures) would work better than adding 50 pounds of wire shelving plus supports (the supports out-weigh the shelves 2:1) because the shelving offers no sideways restraint and the crates do.
With that decision made, she went after food storage containers, settling on plastic storage jars in 2 sizes for most of what we'll be taking. The nice thing about the jars is that nearly all the packaging material gets left behind and doesn't have to find a home in a trash heap somewhere.
Now that I think about it, what we're doing for pantry storage is similar to what SEA YA had done, but without the custom plywood bins that Dennis built. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't eventually duplicate the SEA YA system.
We added a portable refrigerator that runs on either 115 VAC or 12 VDC... an Engel 45. We're pretty happy with it so far. Not sure if it will end up being used as a refer or a freezer (it'll do either). It has taken up residence in the port aft cabin along with our tools, spares and the spinnaker.
With all that heavy stuff stored on the starboard aft cabin berth, I realized I'd never change the charcoal filter on the fresh water supply because of all the stuff to be moved. Since the water heater takes up most of the under-berth space, the filter housing was installed next to the water pump which means everything has to be removed from the berth in order to gain access. We moved the filter housing outside (lower forward face of the berth) where it can be changed without a big production.
Celia has also been going through the food we have stored to throw out things we haven't touched since the big provisioning effort in fall 2001. Several things were out of date, like the yeast she used to make some dinner rolls for Christmas dinner. She found the yeast wouldn't rise properly, so we'll be leaving here with fresh yeast too.
Which reminds me... our eating habits are significantly different than in October when our doctor sent us to see Karon Rzad. Karon is a registered dietician here in the Keys and she moved us to a slightly different style of eating. Not a diet which implies portion control, but rather a change in what foods are included. Sure hope we find all the fresh veggies that are half of what we eat now because this is working really well for us both. I'm eating more than I've ever eaten in my life and have dropped 24 pounds.
Today I got the engine running again. It sounded as cranky as a bear being woken early from hibernation! Persistence won out and we verified everything was working as before. I suspect we need to polish the fuel and I'll work at putting together a pump & fuel filter so that we can clean both tanks before we add fresh fuel.
The dinghy is out on the dock to have a leak repaired, but it's not cooperating in the slightest. Tomorrow will be the second day of the great leak hunt. Part of the problem is we have a lot of wind to deal with at the moment which dries the telltale bubbles in the soapy water brfore I can make note of them. We have to find it, though, or we'll have to see the Bahamas without ever going ashore!
We've dragged our feet putting the A/C into storage. We like to use it to keep the cabin humidity down. Now with the colder weather it's showing off all the air leaks we didn't know were there. The Admiral can get very cranky when the tail winds blow! :-)
We still haven't done a haulout. Probably get that scheduled this week. I've been dragging my feet because I didn't want the paint to die before we left. Looks like either of 2 yards has overhead clearance for us (some have power lines restricting acess), so convenient schedule will probably decide which one. The bottom is looking worse than bad with a long green beard hanging all along the waterline. Not unlike what we've seen on other boats that have been here longer than we have. The warm summer waters really take a toll on ablative bottom paint when the boat doesn't get moved!
Won't be able to schedule the haulout for this coming Monday, though. Celia and I decided to get married and Monday is the big day. Once we decided that's what we wanted to do, we wanted to fit it in before leaving for the Bahamas. I'll coax her into adding her spin in the Admiral's Quarters. She's been mentioning all the places she has to notify about name change, too... a daunting list!
Guess that's it from here in the Never-Never Land of Key West. The Captain and the Admiral of the good ship Goosebumps hope all of you have a wonderful and happy year ahead of you.
Bruce & Celia
still in Key West
ps- marine Law Enforcement officers told the marina to inform residents that boat owners must keep a log of holding tank pump outs which they will compare to marina records. Don't know if that's a state-wide requirement or a local thing, but visitors need to be aware.
20 February 2003 (Update #39)... Hello from Key West
Yeah, yeah. I know... it's the middle of February, we're still in Key West and we can't blame it on the weather! Wellll... stuff happens.
We're pretty much done with projects and only waiting to go to the yard next week for new bottom paint. We decided to delay the trip to the yard so we could spend some time with my son and his girlfriend. Sadly that plan self destructed. Brad and Stephanie live in Maine and it sounded like great fun to have them join us here in Key West for President's Week holiday. Unfortunately the weather demons had another idea and lambasted the northeast with the worst snow they've had in years.
They couldn't get from Portland, ME to Miami, FL directly, so they had reservations that departed Manchester, NH then on to Philadelphia, PA before stopping in Miami. First Philadelphia got snowed in and that took care of the first two changes. When they got Philadelphia cleared, Manchester got snowed in... change #3 was now by the boards. Finally they got Manchester cleared... but guess where the planes are? The first clue is they're definitely not on the east coast.
So after four reservation changes the message was clear that it was time to throw in the towel and save the $$$ for another time. It was disappointing since it's been several years since I've been able to visit with them. The visit was long over due but will have to wait awhile longer. Guess we'll have to head north if we're going to spend any time with them this year. Which could be a good excuse to take the Goose... up north, right? We'll wait to figure it out after the Bahamas.
Key West has been taking the current situation with Iraq in stride: "War? with Iraq? OK... well, let me know how it turns out." We're not really that blasé about it, but sometimes it all seems a little distant. So when the recent Orange Alert recommendation to tape up our homes hit the media, the Goosebumps crew had a short discussion about the prolific use of duct tape. You may recall that we have some prior experience with defensive use of duct tape from the 'great Shaw Bay bug war'! The Admiral asked if we were going to get the tape and plastic sheeting. I told her I thought we probably had about 3 hours of air before we died of asphyxiation if the boat were sealed as described. Even without a confirming note, CSI would definitely call it a suicide!
I liked the calm message of reassurance written by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald in response to this 'great duct tape incident'. We consider Mr. Pitts a very bright guy and we both have enjoyed his perspective on social issues. He tends to write on the serious side, so this column jumped out. He thought all the anxious panic-buying struck a reminiscent chord from his childhood:
"It brings to mind memories of childhood in the nuclear age, when the Commies had The Bomb and we were terrified they would use it. If I recall correctly, it was on the last Friday of every month that we students in the Los Angeles Unified School District heard the air raid siren signaling the "drop drill." At which, you were supposed to fall to your knees under your desk, head down, hands clasped behind your neck.
"This was supposed to protect you in the event of nuclear attack. Of course, the only benefit to be gained from crouching on your knees during a nuclear attack is that it leaves you in a better position to kiss your fanny goodbye.
"It was busy work, designed to make us feel we had some say in our destinies. Something To Do While The Apocalypse Comes. I get the same sense with the duct tape."
I think you got it right, Mr. Pitts. His summary was on the order of 'we got through that and we'll get through this'.
And so too shall the intrepid crew of Goosebumps. Lacking a pair of the $300+ gas masks and the $1,200 protective suits with the special tape to seal them (no, it's not duct tape!), I guess our best protection is to get outta Dodge and finally do what we've been talking about for almost 3 years.
We'll get out another Update after the haulout, then it'll be time for last minute grocery shopping, propane and a last cafe con leche at El Mocho before we leave for Marathon and on to Bimini.
Update on Ric's new boat... he says his new Beneteau 473 with bow thruster and (I still can't get over this!) two TVs should arrive in May. Very cool Ric! Correction: it's three TVs!
Btw, a recent health-news item originating from the Army suggests that you can use duct tape to cure warts. If you put the tape over the offending wart, apparently the body, in fighting off the toxins in the adhesive, ends up getting rid of the wart. It's a little more complicated than just slapping on some duct tape, so if you're interested you can find a copy of Consumer Reports onhealth for March, 2003. In any case, don't throw away all that duct tape just yet!
17 March 2003 (Update #40)... Back from the boat yard!
Actually, we were out of the boat yard (Peninsular Marine Enterprises on Stock Island) in what seemed like record time. The sanding and painting went well and we managed to also get a couple parts fab'ed to finish the installation of the new 120 watt solar panel. We had the yard do the painting so I could spend my time buffing the topside. By Friday evening I had the hulls done but hadn't started on the deck When we had an opportunity to launch on Saturday we went for it and left the buffing for the marina.
Since the yard's painter wasn't around, I finished up by doing the centerboards and bare patches while the boat washanging in the slings. Convenient, too, to get a picture that makes it look like I did all the work! :-)
Getting new bottom paint on the Goose... was the biggest project, but there were other projects that needed attention before we pulled out. It's pretty easy to have one-of-these-days projects sneak into the must-do list, so once we were back in our berth we did a little prioritizing. Then we got busy with the last of the projects that had bubbled to the top of our 'must-do' list. Things like...
One of those long-ignored chores was to get the outboard running and I saved this easy one for last... the night before we were to leave Sunset Marina. Why not? We've never had trouble with the outboard, right? That was the kiss of death and you can probably guess where this is leading. Mr. Yamaha does not like to be ignored, especially when he's been left for several months with a little gas in his carburetor bowl. As it cooked in the hot Florida sun, the gas residue turned into a thick, gooey sludge that clogged every jet. I probably should have taken it to a mechanic, but I poked and prodded the passages of the jets till they were clean and after a 1 plus days of persistence and no small amount of prayer, Mr Yamaha was once again running at something close to full power. It was just as well we had the problem because it caused me to look closely at the seals on the tank-to-engine fuel hose. These seals were cracked and seeping gas, so the hose needed replacing.
With the outboard engine running, we were down to waiting for something we ordered through Walgreens. Unfortunately they just didn't get it done, so while we wait for the order to arrive from a different source, we settled down to watch a little TV last night. We had a couple thunderstorms come fairly close (seems like the summer weather pattern has already started down here!) and during one of the downpours we lost the signal from our satellite receiver. When I checked the Follow Me TV tracker I saw that it was stuck in the Reset mode. Not a good sign! Looks like we may have had a voltage spike from the lightning get through the inverter-charger which clobbered the tracker.
We shipped the tracker to the manufacturer today (they promised a quick turn around) and now we wait for that and our order from the medical supply store. Fortunately the rest of the electronics seem to be fine. The problem was apparently isolated to that one item.
The Admiral has been dealing with the setbacks much better than the Captain which is why she gets to be Admiral! :-) Celia has her chores pretty much in hand with supplies in place, banking done, bills paid, car serviced, phone disconnected... she's got things under control and has been ready to go for days. We also made time to get around town to see a few things before we left. This is a shot from Mallory Square where they have the daily Sunset celebration. Cruise ships like this have to be off this dock before sunset... there's no point in having a Celebration if you can't see the sun set!
We also took some time to get our passports... from the Conch Republic. It's a local thing. Seems back in the '80s the INS set up a road block at the north end of the Florida Keys in an attempt to stem the flow of Cubans pouring into the US through the keys. Strategicaly it makes sense because there's only one road that connects to the mainland. Unfortunately the action essentially shut down Key West because they had traffic backed up for miles. After a couple days the mayor drove north up to the road block, announced that Key West seceded from the Union to form the independent country of the Conch Republic, declared war on the US and fired a shot in the air. He immediately surrendered and demanded foreign aid in the amount of $2,000,000. The next day the road block was gone, but no response was ever forthcoming from the feds. So Key West, the King of Party Towns, to this day insists they are an independent nation which "seceded where others have failed"! They strongly encourage dual citizenship, so we will still get our MediCare benefits! :-)
We really had hoped to be on our way before the shooting starts in Iraq, but it's looking at the moment like we'll be a day or so late... maybe out of Key West Thursday, 3/20/03. I left the itinerary the same, but it becomes less realistic to cover as much ground as I planned as we lost so many days getting started. We'll deal with that as we get a few miles logged.
Unless we get stuck for awhile waiting for weather, the next Update won't go out till after we arrive in the Bahamas. Remember that we're bandwidth limited now that our phone is disconnected and we have switched to radio mail. So please keep e-Mails short and use text-mode (not HTML please!) when writing to us. Remember that once we're on the move we live for notes from the other world!
Bruce & Celia
Key West, FL
24 March 2003 (Update #41)... Hello from Alice Town in North Bimini, Bahamas!
Yes, after all the blah-blah, we're finally here. And it wasn't without a bit of a struggle. With only 2 miles till we could enter the harbor here at Bimini, a squall nailed us and we got a good pounding... if a pounding can ever be good.
We left Key West Saturday at 0700 and had a mostly easy trip getting to Marathon. Even got in a few hours sailing before the wind died. The new Bierig spinnaker looks great!
We checked the weather along the way (via amateur radio service called Winlink) and learned that if we stopped for the night in Marathon as planned, the weather window would close and we'd have to stay in Marathon a few days. So we pushed on, setting a course offshore from Bahia Honda (about 7 miles SW of Marathon). We wanted to catch a free ride in the northbound Gulf Stream current and that we did. The route we took was 168 nm from Key West to Bimini, but the Goose... logged only 134 nm. So the current in the stream essentially saved us 34 miles. Cool.
Along the way we found that the antenna for the single side band had broken off at the backstay. In hindsight we had noticed 3 days of trouble downloading weather & mail, so the connection under the rubber tape had probably broken before we saw the wire dangling. Oh joy! Something to fix when we arrive in Bimini.
Since they kept their distance, the parade of cruise ships was nothing short of impressive. It's no wonder that industry is struggling... there are a bunch of cruise ships working out of Miami & Ft. Lauderdale!
I also got to see the moon rise while I was on watch. It started as a very red smudge on the horizon which I initially thought might be something burning. Then it slowly evolved into a dark orange color and gradually, after rising a few degrees, it lightened to the familiar white color we expect. I wasn't able to get a photo of it, but sunrise was equally spectacular. We had the world to ourselves and we enjoyed it to it's fullest.
We'd been told about the unique color of the Gulf Stream waters and I wanted to share a photo of it. Unfortunately it's really tuogh to get a decent image since anything in the sky reflects off the surface of the water and distorts what a person sees first hand. Maybe this shot off the transom taken while switching fuel tanks will give some idea.
A disconcerting problem we couldn't resolve before leaving was that our electronic charts (Passport from Nobeltec) had a glaring error for Bimini. Nobeltec has just reissued the Bahamas region. After I installed the update and looked at Bimini I found there were 2 images of the both North & South Bimini when I zoomed in. Now that we're here I can see that the new Bimini image (derived from Monty Lewis' Explorer charts I think) is correct. The older image hadn't been deleted and is displaced 0.25 miles NW of the correct location. We just ignored the fact we were driving across So. Bimini and through a resort and focused on the depths across the golf course! Spot checks of other islands didn't show a problem, so hopefully this is an isolated case.
It took us 29 hours to get from Key West to 2 miles off Bimini. Then the squall hit. The channel into the harbor here at Alice Town in North Bimini is along the beach of South Bimini. The harbor is protected from SW winds like we had, but I wasn't all that sure it was smart to go in till the wind died down. So we pounded into the gale force wind for about an hour, then when the squall eased we turned toward the entrance again. Once in the channel we were glad we hadn't tried it earlier... the channel is maybe 50 yards off the beach of South Bimini Island and we could easily have found ourselves in the surf. The crossing took 31 hours in all, 23 of them motoring.
The water is so clear the Admiral had no trouble seeing the bottom and reporting all the rocks as we felt our way into the harbor. Most were 10-15 feet below the surface, but they seemed close enough that they might rip the bottom off the boat at any second. If you haven't been here before, anything you've read about the clarity of Bahamian waters and how pretty the Bahamas are is grossly inadequate. Best to experience it yourself and enjoy the beauty waiting here for everyone.
We tied up at the Government Dock and the intrepid Captain went ashore to take care of ship's business. Checking in was pretty easy with only 3 single-page forms for Customs which I filled out carefully. There's nothing like a 6' 7" customs agent that doesn't smile to make a guy very careful! :-) Had to track down the Immigration agent... he was hanging out at the Perfume Shoppe, chatting with the local ladies. Immigration had 2 more short forms and gave us 3 month visas, renewable if we want to stay longer (unlikely since we expect to leave in mid-June ahead of hurricane season). Guess we happened to get the right Immigrations agent on duty cuz others reported the following day getting only 1 month visas.
We moved the Goose... a short distance north of the marinas into the anchorage. We set 2 anchors in a Bahamian moor because of the strong currents here just off the power plant where diesel powered generators run 24/7). We were so pooped we didn't hear a thing!
Once we were anchored I secured the boom and scooted out onto the end to reattach the antenna lead. Trust me, sitting on a 4 inch wide boom with a 2 inch sail track while the local fisherman do a good impression of Bubba is not a fun experience. I felt something like "a nation divided" until I managed to get side saddle on the boom. If you got this, I guess it was a successful repair.
More along the way. With what seems to be predominantly E to SE weather, we may reverse our itinerary, heading for the south Bahamas first. We'll think it out tomorrow. Right now we both need some sleep.
Bruce & Celia
North Bimini, Bahamas
31 March 2003 (Update #42)... Hello again from Alice Town in North Bimini, Bahamas!
Yep... still here. Been enjoying ourselves while we finish the repairs, think out our next move and wait for weather.
Repairs were the first order of business. During our crossing we both thought the exhaust sounded a little different. We could see water flowing, but it just didn't sound the same. So we opened the raw water pump and found an impeller blade was missing and 2 others were wounded in action. Fortunately we had a spare and in it went. The only concern was where the missing blade had ended up. Miracle of miracles, I found the errant piece of rubber laying in the heat exchanger... along with a few big chinks of zinc. Uh-oh. So we installed a new zinc while we were at it.
The biggest problem we brought with us from Key West was a sick outboard. I had gotten it running just before leaving, but there's 'running' and there's 'running'. In our case it was running barely... then it decided enough is enough and refused to start at all. It took a few days but eventually we found a spray can of carburetor cleaner at the General Store. I figured it must be pretty good stuff cuz it said NOT FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA. So I disassembled the carburetor for the umpteenth time and sprayed the nasty stuff everywhere I could. It left an ugly, scummy mess in the pan which was a good sign since all that stuff had previously been welded to the innards of the carburetor. Back together and reinstalled, the little 4 HP engine once again can get one person up on plane. Very nice to have the 'family car' back!
Not a pressing item, but since we seemed to be using a ton of amps from our batteries I thought I should make sure the solar charge controller was calibrated (it was). We bought the RV Power Products Solar Boost 50 a few months ago, but tied to the dock it wasn't clear just how well it was going to do. With all of a week of use, it seems to be doing just great. On frequent occasions we see as much as 20 amps out of the controller. We have 280 watts total from 3 panels, so we're coming pretty close to theoretical maximum. Typically, though, the output is around 15-16 amps. Really pleased about how the controller works.
The Village Marine Little Wonder watermaker has been doing great, keeping the water tank topped up. Initially we were a little concerned cuz we could only hit 5.6 gal/hr vs. 8.3 gal/hr spec. We attributed some of this to water temp (cooler water is more dense, so output falls off), but 33% seemed a bit much. However, each time we use it the output seems to rise even though total dissolved solids (salt) remains the same. Last night we hit about 7.2 gal/hr which is good enough to stop worrying about it.
It doesn't take long to see Alice Town. No. Bimini is only a few hundred yards wide so it's a quick walk over to the beach on the west side. We saw this cruiser anchored in this tranquil setting while the wind was in the east. A couple days later this became a maelstrom as a front approached out of the southwest.
If you've seen Silence of the Lambs, look closely at this shot of the main street of Alice Town. Remember the final scene in the movie when Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Lechter) calls Jody Foster (the FBI agent) from a pay phone? This is the street that was in the background. Apparently this is about as busy as things get around here, so they must have brought in a few extras to fill the street for that scene!
One of the novelties we discovered here is the use of sea planes to fly from island-to-island and island-to-Florida. I thought that was only the stuff of movies, but it turns out to be a viable use of the old Grumman Goose. The story we got locally is that these planes are owned & operated by a Jimmy Buffett charter flight business. I'm not too sure how much weight to put on that bit of info, but whoever operates these charter flights must find No. Bimini a challenge since they have to fly through the anchorage for most takeoffs and landings. Last week we saw as many as 4 flights per day. The terminal they use says Chalk's International and you can see the ramp where the plane pulls up out of the water to load/unload passengers. I remember mention of Chalk's in a novel that Jimmy Buffett wrote (Where's Joe Merchant? I think). But the way it sounded I thought it was defunct.
We also discovered a strange looking 'thing' that I can only describe as a black coccoon. In some ways it looked like little bits of asphalt that had been stuck together by insects for a hive. Certainly the stuff of an X Files episode.. I thought that the Admiral should maybe take a closer look and maybe poke at the thing a little but she told me what I could do with my closer look! If you have any ideas what this thing is, please let me know.
We also came across this wreck near the entrance to No. Bimini harbor. You may still be able to make out the name Gallant Lady on the bridge. Gallant Lady fell victim to one of the storms that hammer this area on occasion. A grim reminder of what awaits those that become careless! From the look of it, this must have seen service as one of the mail boats that bring not only the mail but also supplies that feed, clothe and house the inhabitants of the Bahamas.
Check out this shot along the west side of the anchorage. See the piles of rubble extending into the harbor? That's conch shell [pronounced conk] piled there... and several other places around town as well. At the rate shells seem to be piling up here I can't imagine conch not being on the endangered species list soon! The other shot is from the seawall where we land our dinghy to get into town. Things are pretty convenient here with a small market and a coin laundry across the street. And finding things is pretty easy anyway since the residents here are very friendly. Nearly everyone greets you with a smile.
Btw, Bimini has a local specialty called Bimini bread. Of course we had to try some and really like it. But my favorite is the local banana bread! I doubt it would keep very long, so I won't be able to stash more than a couple loaves when we leave town!
It's a good thing the outboard is working again and that things are so convenient cuz it looks like we'll be here awhile longer. A nasty front came through Sunday nite (30 Mar) and has things pretty well shut down for cruising. It looks at the moment like we won't be able to get out of here until Thursday (4 Apr). The winds Sunday night and this morning had gusts up to 33 kts and it's been averaging over 20 kts since. Thankfully the harbor is protected, but as the wind gets around to the N it looks like it will get a little uncomfortable since there's a long north-south fetch in the harbor. Oh joy.
At the moment we think we'll be headed to the Berrys when we leave here. The Berrys is a chain of cays about 70 miles E of Bimini that stretch in a southerly arc. We'll send more along the way.
Bruce & Celia
Alice Town on No. Bimini, Bahamas
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