Wednesday, 22 October 2014

the complicatedness of simplicity

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Henri David Thoreau

Home Sweet Home
I have a confession to make: my personal style includes a certain amount of clutter and I’m a proponent for simple living. It’s just that my life doesn’t fit between the covers of a simple lifestyle magazine. Yes, there are entire magazines that preach the gospel of minimalism and de-cluttering. Sleek spreads show you immaculate homes with only three items on a desk and a flawless bunch of organic produce on an otherwise bare kitchen counter. The phrase “simple living” has reached mythical proportions. If we are to believe the media, it is synonymous with perfection. And the colour white.

But we do live simply aboard our old Nyon, and there is nothing further from perfection than our sailboat: all you need to look at are her fifty-something year old wood floors, her leaks, and the piles of homemade throw pillows. To be honest, I prefer the term living consciously. The Epicureans of 4th century BC also tried to live by that mantra. The philosopher Epicurius was the founder of the movement that called for living modestly and limiting one’s desire for material things.

There are many more recent examples of people moving away from materialism and embracing self-sustaining lifestyles: Shakers and Mennonites come to mind. And have you ever read Rousseau, or Thoreau’s “Walden”? This concept is a recurring one. However, the images now associated with choosing to live simply have glossed over the realities of what it means.

The actuality of “simplifying your life” is that it’s more work, it’s often time consuming, and everything happens slowly, especially on a boat. So why do it? What’s so bad about material things and convenience? Nothing. I just found that for myself, when everything is at my fingertips, I tend to go on auto-pilot. When I don’t have to think about water consumption or space, I become less conscious of what is around me or of what I may choose to acquire. When I have to plan to make water on a sunny day, when I can’t accumulate food in a freezer (because I don’t have one), or when there is nowhere to put that last item, I am forced to think about how my actions impact my resources. I notice the finite edge of things and I shift my priorities. Convenience no longer takes precedence, things just become things.

The advantage of living on a boat is that even if you have pack-rat tendencies, the limitations are very clear. There is no attic, no shed. And if you actually sail that boat, everything needs an “away”. It’s almost cheating. We live the simple life in part because we have to. When you live aboard, you cannot replicate your land life, period.

Simple moments
From my perspective, living consciously isn’t just about limiting material things and becoming self-sustaining. It’s also about being in the present moment. That’s challenging, especially now that we once more have access to first world comforts and technology. Regular access to the Internet and media fills every crevasse of the day. I can’t think of a happier time than our stay in Suwarrow in the Cook Islands. There was no Internet there, no cell phones, and no stores. We could send e-mails, but we’d check our inbox every few days via our satellite phone, not every hour. If we were restless, we didn’t pick up the iPad and check what our friend had for breakfast on Facebook. I got my art supplies out. We took apart our winches and serviced them. We did yoga on the beach and swam with manta rays. Life was rich with possibilities.* I miss the quiet of that disconnected world.

When we choose to strip our lives from unnecessary things and distractions, it can be challenging. Often, there is the need to overcome feelings of emptiness that come from removing the usual distractions. The resulting quietness lets the noise of our minds take over, which can be unsettling. It’s certainly not all Zen all the time. My personal hurdle is managing the available technology in a way that it doesn’t eat me up.** For other live-aboard sailors (cruisers), the lack of a washing machine or not having a seemingly endless supply of water is especially difficult. I imagine landlubbers have their own demons to wrestle with. Still, I am an advocate for the simple lifestyle in its many incarnations.

I also realize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I can make the choice to strip my life from luxuries; I was not forced by circumstances. Though I never had the option to buy the big house or the latest toys, I still recognize how fortunate Rick and I are to voluntarily choose to live simply. 

There are many ways to bring your life to its core essentials, and to be present. While it’s a sometimes challenging path, it is freeing in ways you can’t imagine until you do it. It’s like taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. Though I can guarantee that for most of us, it will not look like the glossy photo in that magazine.

*Of course, it was easier to do “fun” things as we did not have work commitments at the time, however, we are working now and the advantages of simple living are still evident to us.

** We have reduced our Internet use to what our phone plan offers: up to 1GB each per month, plus the occasional free Wi-Fi connection ashore. This makes a big difference to our time spent online. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

the vortex that is land

This was a good sunrise.
My life sounds very different than it did only 2 months ago. There is the whirr of a sewing machine, the grumblings of a “real fridge”, the splash of running water. Most strange of all though, is the muffled hum of the wind. It seems so far away

Sunday at the races
I had forgotten how insular life on land could feel. As we enter our second month of house-sitting, our life also looks very different now. We have a lovely view of the channel from the house. And the Tuis keep us entertained during the day, while the Moreporks hoot at night. We look down at yachts sailing by and occasionally feel a twinge of jealousy. Though, we do relish our perch on the hillside. It is after all, still a novelty. And we have so much space: storage space, work space, wasted space. The first week we were in the house, Rick would wander from room to room like a lost puppy, repeating: “This is so luxurious…” We sometimes have to walk three boat-lengths just to go pee.

Tearing Nyon apart
Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful to spend time in a house during the worst of this New Zealand winter. And we are happy to share our space with a spirited cat named Davey. Yet, we miss Nyon, but Nyon is a mess right now anyway. What better time for a makeover, right? When we agreed to house-sit for 3 months, we realized it was an opportunity to get some long overdue work done in the cabin: work that would have been pure hell on our marriage had we tried to live aboard at the same time.

Rick has been working on Nyon every chance he gets. He redesigned our saloon settee/berth and has been tearing things apart. Judging from the photos, he’s begun putting things back together again. He’s also building in refrigeration and adding lockers so we can finally hide our mess. We don’t own much, but our belongings have the irritating habit of spreading out all over the cabin. We hope that with extra lockers, we can hide the fact that our boat is not always shipshape.

The settee that could:
Adding a berth on Nyon

Thank you Sailrite (and Ariel)
Since our settee will have a different outline, we decided it was time to get new cushions. Gone are the tired old velvet cushions. Enter the Sailrite sewing machine and multi-coloured fabrics. Rick’s boss Ariel, kindly lent me her old sewing machine, so that I could sew new cushion covers. It’s been one steep learning curve, surprisingly it has been fun too. (No really, it has, except for a few tears and cusses.) The dining room is my sewing room. The garage is my workshop. There, I am refinishing Nyon’s sole (floor) and cabinetry that we have removed from the boat. 

Our to-do lists are long. Wish us luck. As long as we are mostly finished by September 24, we’ll be able to move back aboard. I want to spend my birthday at anchor in the Bay of Islands. And then… Well, there is the outside of Nyon to tackle. It will be time to haul out again before all the cruisers make their way back to New Zealand and the busy "work" season begins.

First three cushions.
Yes, we are embracing our inner gypsies.
Now you know why we have been silent on the blog front. This is the longest we have been off the boat in seven years. Already, we are dreaming of being at anchor on a sunny spring day. Home for me is Rick, but Nyon is the icing on the cake. There is no doubt in my mind, I miss the sweetness of life on the water.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

sometimes, friend

Old friends. 'Nuff said.
Today, I was thinking about friends. Old friends. You know: the kind whose friendship is so comfortable, spending time with them is like slipping into a nicely worn pair of jeans. These friends are practically family, without the complications. They knew you when you were younger and stupider. (Then again, you knew them when they were younger and stupider too.) They are among the friends I still miss, along with those that were more recently in my every day before we left Canada. Then there are the friends that belong to a larger group. We liked them or we liked the same activities and that was that. We also had friendships that grew after we went offshore through letters and messages.  And of course, there are the friends I let go or that let me go, because things changed between us.

Our everyday peeps back in Canada
 Mentors turned friends, Bjarne and Barb (not pictured),
joined us in Mexico for some fun in the sun
(Sorry boys, I couldn't help it!)

More than one person has asked me, “But what about friendships among voyagers?” How are they different?

After climbing Mt. Otemanu
with the gang on Bora Bora 
There are the whirlwind friends, (usually a few boats that end up traveling in the same general area). Perhaps those connections are more superficial, but you have enough bodies to make for a dynamic group with whom you spend an intense but short time that you remember with a smile. We met such a group in Bora Bora. We hiked and played like a bunch of kids.

Two crazies we just don't want to
get rid of

Then there are the “couple” friends. We are two on our boat, and sometimes we’d meet another two we hit it off with on another yacht. Every now and then, we’d decide to travel together for a while. This happened to us more than once. It turns out that two-boat adventures were double the fun.

The guys and I on Isla Danzante

Most of the single-handers we’ve met are guys. I find that single-handers often don’t get a fair shake. There’s an attitude that maybe something is wrong with someone who chooses to sail the world alone. We’ve enjoyed meeting some pretty quirky and interesting solo travelers. We don’t need even numbers to call someone a friend. One solo sailor traveled with us for a summer in the Sea of Cortez. Of course, there are the anchorage friends: those definitely belong in the acquaintance category. A social butterfly in an anchorage decides to invite all the anchored boats to the beach for some type of social event, like a potluck. It’s a lot of, “I’m so and so from that boat, went here and here, and am going there, etc.” This can be a lot of fun and exhausting. 
Hanging out on Nyon with

In more isolated bays, we met locals who welcomed us into their homes, and shared the food they’d caught. And I met Sabine in Taiohae, the capital of the Marquesas. Before long we were laughing over Nyon’s stove about the language barrier between her partner Jonathan and Rick. (I was the only one that spoke both French and English.) After visits and hugs, we made promises and waved goodbye while wondering if we’d ever see each other again.

In Mexico: Rick and Holly (Wondertime)
relax after playing in the waves
There is one other type of friend we’ve made while cruising: they’re known as the kid boats. We call them that because, well, they’re boats with kids on them: families sailing the 7 seas with children of all ages, including babies and even teenagers, like our friends on Letitgo. Being a non-kid boat, we were not usually in their primary social hub, but we occasionally did “break in”. It’s a special thing to find a kindred spirit in an 8 year old artist or discover a new bay through the eyes of a 3 year old. We found that cruising kids are a neat bunch, the parents themselves tend to be pretty damn cool too.

I feel the need to mention “Internet” friends. Are they valid friendships? They have the potential to be. Through social media and blogs, we voyagers meet like-minded sailors or travelers who share some of our values and interests. While these friendships might not always run deep, they are one way to find support from people (when there is Internet access) who understand what weathering a storm on a yacht is like, or the emotions that run through you when you see land after 25 days at sea. These contacts are also great when it comes to sharing information about sailing into new countries or out-of-the way places.

Bella Star and Dream Time: 2 degrees of Separation
Occasionally, you end up meeting some of them along the way. It’s grand when you realize you like them even more in person than you thought you would. We were first in contact with Aaron and Nicole (Bella Star) through the crew of Estrellita whom we hadn’t met either. We all left from the Northeastern Pacific to go cruising around the same time and read each other’s blogs along the way. Rick and I eventually met both crews which was great fun, (though we didn’t meet one of the crews until 2 years after we’d left Canada, and only very briefly!) It was also because of Estrellita (thanks guys!) that we met the crews of Cariba and Dream Time. Forget the 6 degrees of separation, in the cruising community, make that 2.

But can the people you meet as a transient become friend friends: the kind that you are heartbroken to say goodbye to as you sail off over a different horizon? The sort that you know are kindred spirits after a short time, where you tell each other as many of your favourite stories as you can, all the while wondering how it is that you already feel like old friends. Do those friends even exist out here? Yes, yes, they do. It’s not everyone, but you recognize them when you see them.

Reunited after 2 years!
In my naïveté, I had expected to meet more of them when we first began to sail abroad. I learned that those connections are something to be cherished. Because if you do meet kindred spirits, they may not be sailing in the same direction, or they might be living on the land you are passing through. You have days, (and if you’re lucky) weeks to get to know each other before the friendship becomes long-distance. What is it that makes you connect with another person like that? For us it’s when our interactions quickly become effortless, by reaching a certain level of candor through stories and laughter. Among other fine sailors, we experienced this with an Aussie boat called Storm Bay. Chris and Margie popped into our lives in Victoria (as they cruised through) and we met up again in the Northern Sea of Cortez 2 years later. They are now in Chile and we are in New Zealand. We still write and follow each other’s journeys. Maybe one day, our wakes will cross again, we’d really like that. (I just need to convince Rick that he wants to go around Cape Horn!)

Girl Time
One of my walking buddies
Some friendships take off with “that first talk”. I don’t know how many of you that cruise or travel have had that happen. You meet someone, and there’s an instant connection. Or maybe there wasn’t one right away, but a couple anchorages later, something clicks. You happened to be chilling out on the same beach, or agreed to meet for an early morning walk. One of you opens up, shares something a little more personal. And you both dive into a juicy conversation that is more raw and honest than what you’ve experienced in a few months of encounters. In the end, you leave each other with lighter hearts. It can be that you go your separate ways never to see each other again, or that conversation can be the seed for a newfound friendship.

Buddy boating with Gab (above) and Issy throughout the
the Society Island was awesome. 
While voyaging on the ocean and hopping from island to island, I learned to accept that friendships come and go. Some associations survive in a finite place and time. But some connections do have staying power, and those ones are worth the heartbreak of inevitable goodbyes. Because when you end up anchored in the same part of the world once again, it’s like you’re finding an old part of yourself. Sweet is the taste of meals shared with friends who last hugged you thousands of miles away. Sooner or later, you have to say goodbye all over again. Such is the life of a voyager.

Having said all that, it is undeniable that there were times on our journey when we felt awfully lonely. Short meetings with lovely people left us hungry for more. The intermittent contact with friends and family back home was not enough either.  In time, Rick and I realized that we had to work hard at being each other’s best friend because of our transitory lifestyle. And when you spend a lot of time together in sometimes challenging circumstances, it means you have to forgive easily and laugh a lot. There aren’t too many people I could share what I shared with Rick on this voyage so far. Yet we both do value our connection with the people around us. It’s important to reach out when you travel. Half the fun is the people you meet. Sometimes, they turn into a good story. Sometimes, they become friends. And sometimes, they’re both.

NOTE: Thank you for putting up with my need to cram as many photos as I could in this article. Many special people are missing, but you get the idea...

Monday, 21 April 2014

oh happy day

Morning light
One of  our favourite things to do while anchored out in the Bay of Islands is barefoot tramping. (Now before you let you mind run to the gutter...) Tramping is the Kiwi word for hiking or walking. And those Kiwis, they like tramping. Maybe that's why I like them so much. As far as we're concerned, when we're hiking here, shoes are optional. And other than a minor injury from a particularly razor sharp blade of grass, we ran around Moturua Island like happy hippies. Best. Day. Ever. 

"Rick, show me how you're feeling today!"

Colour bliss

Isn't this lovely? I wish you could hear the Tuis
Yup, awesome day

Another beach on Moturua (The hike around the island
consists of ridge-beach-ridge-beach, etc...

Me and my favourite

shades of blue

The clouds begin their takeover, but the water is still bright
The sun personified is a moody artist who paints the sea in various shades of turquoise, steel grey,  or deep indigo. Sometimes translucent and at other times opaque, the sea is transformed by light. I'm always amazed how a cloudy day or early morning light transforms my backyard. The following photos were all taken from the same anchorage, over a 3 day period: so many shades of blue...

It's beginning to rain
Hunkering down and letting it pass

Turquoise, the royal colour that re-emerges after the rain

Early morning, a deep blue

Saturday, 22 March 2014

same song, different verse

Early days on Nyon
I’m an adventurer, but I do love cozying up in a blanket with a good book. I’m a nature lover, yet I relish immersing myself in a large city’s energy, the galleries, cafes, the gritty neighbourhoods, the whole-in-the wall shops… I can be the life of the party or a wallflower, it depends on my mood. Of course, I can talk your ear off but I’m just as happy spending a day by myself with my music and a sketchbook. And I’m a voyager yes, but the homebody in me is never far off.

One of our biggest projects
I started writing this blog as a way to explain to our loved ones the crazy adventure Rick and I had just begun. We had bought an old wooden sailboat and had started refitting it. All the while, we were rambling about going offshore with it. We were going to sail off into the sunset, that’s what we told anyone who would listen. I sometimes wonder whether people believed us. But I kept writing, and we kept dreaming while spending hours, weeks, months, fixing our old boat. That was 7 years ago.

Last glimpse as we
left Canada
If you are reading this, you know that we did leave. We embraced our inner adventurers. Call it what you will, we saw ourselves as footloose and fancy-free. The blog became a log of our discoveries, both geographical and cultural. I also began to write about my inner journey. I included some of the challenges we faced, like the time our mast broke. I also sometimes touched on the loneliness that crept up on us at times. As we travelled south, our readership expanded. People we met along the way began to read our stories. And then strangers did too. Anonymous readers wrote us asking questions or sending encouragement. I was no longer simply writing. At some point, this blog morphed into an exchange of ideas, experiences and philosophies.

Soaking in the city vibe
Lately, I’ve been wondering, what will I write about now? People expect adventures, anecdotes… How do I share my sense of wonder at the daily observations that come from staying put in one location? I won’t be travelling thousands of miles this coming year. What I’ll be doing, is journeying deeper into one country that is foreign to me. This is an opportunity. And I want to write about that while also taking the time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned on the way here. 

Fiji and the Western South Pacific await, but this time when the grand exodus begins in April, we will be among those waving goodbye to the yachts sailing over the horizon. Soon after, we'll dig out our woolies and brace ourselves for our first winter in 3 years. And maybe, just maybe, I will have a story or two to tell.

Exploring the vicinity with friends we met thousands of
nautical miles away (with Barbera from SV Landfall)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

paying attention

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around,
but standing around as though with your arms open.
(Mary Oliver)

Rowing to shore for an early morning walk
(Photo courtesy of Fran Kelly)

Misty goodness

As the fog lifts: colour
The light at the end of the tunnel

The end

Sunday, 16 March 2014

an unwelcome visitor

Just a little bit windy for now
Lusi is coming to town this weekend, but we don’t want her to.

Friday 1100: The energy is charged around Opua this morning. We’re waiting for Lusi to make landfall on the northern tip of New Zealand. Boats have crammed themselves into the marina and then there are those of us tied to moorings with multiple lines and plenty of chafe guard. Our decks are cleared. Everything is tied down. And we have chocolate. We are ready. We’ve been through our share of storms, but never a cyclone or hurricane. We do expect Cyclone Lusi to shrink down to a storm before she graces us with her presence. We just wish she weren't coming at all.

Vanuatu has suffered because of Lusi. She has sadly been the cause of 3 confirmed deaths and a number of people have disappeared (likely due to mudslides) The damage a tropical cyclone can leave in its wake can be extensive. The recent Cyclone Ian is an example of the desolation that can be left behind. 

Friday 1400: The skies are overcast. Big thick clouds have been gathering since last night. The wind has begun to rise. But so far we’re in the 20 knot range with gusts only slightly higher. That’s just run of the mill winds. Rick is still at work. And I’m monitoring weather forecasts and working on some computer projects.

Live action while we still had Internet, can you see NZ?
(Click to enlarge)
Friday 2300: The wind has become very gusty, still only in the 30 knot range, but we don’t expect it to worsen for a few hours. After dawdling for a while, we go to bed.

Saturday 0200: Actually, to be exact, it was 0150. All of a sudden the wind was very loud. And we were both startled awake. We had already decided to get up every 2 hours to check our lines, and it was nearly Rick’s turn to go out in the storm. The boat was straining on the lines, but everything was fine. We’ve experienced 40+ knot winds before. The worst part is the noise, and the potential of lines chafing through. But we know to keep a close eye on that. There can be a lot of friction on the lines that hold a boat to a mooring (a yacht’s anchor rode or dock lines can have the same issues). If there is enough wind, the resulting motion and friction can slice clear through thick lines. Have I mentioned chafe guard?

Saturday 0300: We no longer have an Internet connection. Luckily our cell phone has a mini data plan that allows us to keep checking weather reports. Oh, and our anamometer stopped working. Our transmitter needs fresh batteries, while they still charge on sunny days, a cloudy day means they don't last through the night. [We found out later that the winds went up to 58 knots in the middle of the night. This explains why the wind sounded so ominous, luckily, our location was well protected unlike some parts of the Bay of Island.]

Saturday 0800: The winds are back in the mid 40’s (our anamoter is working again). Rick is sleeping after we've both spent most of the night awake. I'm keeping watch and working on the computer. I'm incredibly productive. Maybe it's because there is no Internet to distract me.

Rick and Ernesto Trying to save
what's left of that sailin 40 knot winds
Saturday 0900: A nearby (unattended) yacht’s foresail unfurled in the wind and we watch helpless as it slowly starts to shred. We pass on the message through friends, but we only have a rowing dinghy, there is no way we could go over there to minimize the damage. Our neighbour Ernesto on Libertee calls on the VHF and asks Rick to come help him furl it back up, Libertee has a dinghy with an outboard. So the two set off against wind and rain. I watch from Nyon as they put a stop to the already extensive damage on the sail. 

Saturday 1900: We barely notice the gusts in the mid 20’s tonight. We filled our bellies with a delicious chicken and kumara curry and we'll likely fall asleep early. We're tired. 

Sunday 1000: Light breezes and sunshine greet us. 

Check out  this footage, you'll see what it looked like in Northland during the storm. 

If you are a sailor (or not) and you want to know how to prepare for a storm or what it's like in an actual hurricane, this is a great article written by someone who weathered  Hurricane Marty in the Sea of Cortez. There is a lot of great information, and our hurricane list is an adaptation of theirs.

Monday, 10 March 2014

pulling over to the side of the ocean

Late afternoon view from our mooring ball in Opua
That’s what I read. Switching gears from-full time cruising to settling in a community for an extended period of time can be difficult. “Not me, I’m going to love it”, I thought, “I can use a break, recharge my batteries, find steadiness in a more stable community.”  Well.

Yes, we are still sailing!
We haven’t returned to our home country, we are still living on our boat after 7 years, and we plan to continue exploring this big, wide world. Yet we feel like a chapter has ended. We cruised full time for 2 ½ years and we have sailed the largest body of water on the planet. Now, we are here. New Zealand is a lot like Canada, but it is also very different.  We’re used to different:  we like variety, we love discovering the quirks of other cultures, and we like pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones, but this stop is... more involved. We are now officially expats. We are still on the fringes of our new community but we have work visas! We have IRD tax numbers! Rick already has a job in the marine industry. I’m working on projects and looking for work. Most days, all this newness is exciting, other days, it’s overwhelming. Sometimes, I just feel a little bit lost. My purpose was clearly defined as a voyager. Keep the boat afloat, plan journeys, and discover foreign lands. I’m busy shifting those gears to a more constant environment and different types of responsibilities. The strangest part is that sailing is something I once again do on weekends. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word transition as a: “passage from one state, subject, or place to another.” It also defines it as “a musical passage leading from one section of a piece to another.” The latter speaks more to my state of mind. I’m still figuring out the notes, but I can hear a new melody.

A sleepy Opua (to the left is Ashby's Boatyard)
Melody aside, if I am to be perfectly honest I’m still finding my footing. Why should a more stable environment cause me so much unrest? I feel like my compass is spinning. This morning, while drinking my coffee, I paused mid-sip. I realized how much I have learned about myself since I left Canadian shores in 2011. I realized that loneliness won’t kill me. I worked through my fears of storms or hitting containers out on the big blue. I climbed mountains I thought my body couldn’t climb because of my Ankylosing Spondylitis. I befriended people I may never have crossed paths with in my past life. I am a little less afraid of sharks and I feel a strong affinity with the rhythms of the ocean, the moon, and the sun. I now recognize my strength and resourcefulness. I also truly understand what it means to say “this too shall pass”. 

Rejoicing in our new backyard:
The beautiful Urupukapuka
in the Bay of Islands
The uneasiness I’m feeling right now is obviously part of being in transition. When we were sailing through one of the worst storms we’d faced offshore and I cried in frustration and fatigue, I hit a low. But after weathering the storm, and dropping the hook in turquoise waters, the exhilaration I felt erased the anxiety. It comes down to this, whatever is happening, it’s only happening now. It will pass. Something else will take its place. A wonderful anchorage can become a dangerous lee shore. A stormy night can see the sun rise with a light breeze. Slowing down after sailing 15000 nautical miles can give us a well earned rest. Nothing is static. Nothing is permanent. The sooner I accept that, the easier it is to open myself up to what I am experiencing right now, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I know that eventually, I will feel part of this community. I will enjoy the stability, at least for a while. And I will feel more grounded. For now, I shall sit with my spinning compass, breathe deep, and peruse the classifieds.


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