BuiltWithNOF

Roger Strube MD   /    Roger H Strube, MD   /   Dr Roger Strube

Sailing the Dragon

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The most fun I have had sailing has been on multihulls.  My friend, Tom Mestrits has built several and owned more.  On one Columbus Day race from Miami to Key Largo down Biscayne Bay while sailing in 20 knots of wind out of the NE with a spinnaker up, Hunky Dory (a.k.a. “The Beast”), a Shuttleworth 42 hit a steady 24 knots in flat water through the Featherbeds Channel.  I was on the helm and Tom was on the main sheet.  My son, Mark Strube, was on the spinnaker sheet.  The ladies were reading a book and sipping a cocktail.  The boat had been sailing at a steady 12 to 15 knots.  It seems these large fast cats hit sort of a “sound barrier” effect at about that speed.  Given enough pressure in the sails and a light, narrow fast design the cat will push through this barrier and then, with very little fuss, slide very controllably up to the low 20 knot area.  This seems to be like reaching Mach 2.  Reaching 24 knots (about 28 MPH) in flat water on a large sailing cat is really a thrill.

The Dragon sails effortlessly between 12 and 16 knots with the right wind conditions.  The day we reached 17.9 knots was very special.  I had about 10 guests on the starboard fore deck.  The wind was out of the NE off shore as we sailed south between Punta Gorda and Burnt Store Marina where we were going for lunch.  The breeze was a steady 15 with some gusts to 20.  The dragon was trimmed for a tight reach as as a gust hit, I sailed down following the apparent wind as the speed of the boat increased.  We finally reached 17.9 knots.  That was more excitement than anyone my age needs so I sailed off a little further to slow down and then proceeded at a steady 12 to 14 knots.

Captain Roger Strube

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There are a few principals that should be remembered when sailing a large cruising catamaran.  These machines are not light weight beach cats.  They never lift a windward hull.  A cruising cat may have a enclosed salon bridge deck as does the Dragon.  It may have an open bridge deck as does The Beast (a.k.a., Hunky Dory - Shuttleworth 42).  It may have high aspect ratio dagger boards or fixed low aspect ratio keels as does Millennium Dragon.  I have been sailing on Hunky Dory in several races when the windward hull got “light”.  Sailing from Miami to Bimini at 18 knots on a dark moon less night in 6 foot seas as several squall lines moved through was more than exciting.  It was down right scary.  Such a sail is not a cruiser’s idea of fun but, as all cruisers know, “Wind Happens”.  A cruiser’s life is mainly determined by weather, water and Amps burned.  Let’s take an imaginary cruise from Punta Gorda to the Bahamas and back to illustrate how the sailing, motoring and other systems of the Dragon work. 

A Dream of a Cruise

Cruising is as much a state of mind as it is a physical activity.  The adventure is the thing.  Sometimes the process of getting there is more enjoyable than being there. As Bob Bitchin of “Latitudes and Attitudes” magazine has put it, “Attitude, the difference between Ordeal and Adventure”.

Before any cruise it is a good idea to file a “Float Plan”.  There are several Web sites that will help you with this.  A copy should be sent to a relative or close friend.  If any major problem happens, people will know where to start looking.

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A Day Dream Cruise to the Bahamas - What Could Possibly Happen?

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So let’s take a daydream cruise from Punta Gorda down Charlotte Harbor and out into the Gulf of Mexico. The wind is out of the NNE at 10 to 12 knots so we know are in for a good ride.  We check the GPS tide table at we will be leaving on a raising tide.  After breakfast ashore we leave Ponce de Leon inlet and hail Tow Boat US on the VHF radio.  They respond, “Vessel calling, switch and answer channel 18”.  We switch to channel 18 for our radio check (the USCG frowns on asking for a radio check on channel 16 and we really don’t want to look like a bunch of amateurs). Our radio is working fine.  We inform them of our plan to sail through Boca Grande and they let us know a dredge is working the channel.  We clear channel 18 and stand by on channel 16.  Now head to wind the mainsail is raised.  This is done hand over hand at the port side of the mast.  The halyard has a 2:1 purchase so raising the main manually is quick.  With a little effort we manually raise the main to within 8’ of the top, return to the helm station and, using the electric Lewmar #44 winch, raise the main to the top.  Falling off the wind to starboard we accelerate on port tack and head south down Charlotte Harbor. The jib roller furler line at the back of the cockpit is released and the jib trimmed using the mechanical Lewmar #44 on the starboard side of the deck house.  We are now making an easy 8 knots but it is early, the wind is fair and stable so we decide to fly the kite.  The spinnaker is brought on deck from the forward locker and coiled (in its sock) in the starboard trampoline.  Several feet of the bottom of the sail are pulled out of the sock.  The tack is attached to the bridle that runs between the bows and the sheet is lead back to the cockpit on the starboard side to the Lewmar #44 mechanical winch at the side of the cockpit.  The halyard is fastened and the spinnaker, still in its sock (“snuffer”) is raised to within 2 feet of the top.  The tack is set forward between the jib head stay and the port bow using the bridle adjustment and the clew is trimmed back.  The sock has two internal lines.  One raises the scoop and sock and the other lowers it.  We raise the sock and as the wind fills the spinnaker the spreading sail assists the sock in sliding up.  The spinnaker remains soft until we furl the jib.  This is done in the cockpit by slowly releasing the jib sheet as the roller furler line is taken up by the electric Lewmar #44 winch at the back of the cockpit.  As the jib comes in the spinnaker takes the pressure, the Dragon accelerates, the apparent wind is dragged forward and we hit a nice comfortable 12 knots.

We are able to carry the kite the 9 NM down Charlotte Harbor to Green Marker 5 at the tip of the reef running SE from Cape Haze.  True wind is still NNE but has increased to a steady 12 knots with gusts to 15.  This may be a little too close to the wind after the jibe at Marker 5 for the spinnaker.  We will need to sail West toward Boca Grande and the speed of the boat dragging the apparent wind forward might give the kite too much pressure.  We elect to drop the chute.  The jib roller furling is released and the jib over trimmed tightly back to the eased out boom and main.  This creates a “dead wind zone” in the space between the back sides of the main and jib.  The SHEET attached to the kite is trimmed in hard under the lee of the main.  The snap shackle fitting at the TACK of the spinnaker is then released.  The spinnaker then collapses between the main and jib in the dead zone over the starboard forward trampoline and the spinnaker sock is pulled down over the sail.  The halyard is then eased as the sail, in it’s sock, is coiled on the starboard trampoline.  The jib is then eased to proper trim and we sail another 100 yards to Marker 5.  A slow jibe from port to starboard tack is then completed.  The port traveler line is placed on the electric winch at the helm station and the boom centered.  Once dead down wind the jib is jibed over and trimmed loosely using the port mechanical Lewmar #44 at the helm station.  With a little more rotation to the west the main jibes over and we are on starboard tack.  The apparent wind is now a little ahead of the beam and we are sailing at 9 to 10 knots.  The apparent wind is too far forward and too strong for the spinnaker or the screecher.  Besides, 10 knots is fast enough for cruisers.

We cover the 8 NM to Boca Grande in under an hour.  We check all the weather channels on the VHF and determine the weather will be stable for the next 24 to 48 hours.  The dredge Tow Boat US told us about is working the northern side of the outer channel.  The wind is now a steady 15 knots out of the NNE so we decide to sail out through Boca as our off shore sail down the barrier islands will be in their lee.  The Gulf of Mexico should be flat until we are south of Sanibel.  We sail out Boca Grande Pass and SW down the outside channel until we clear the shallows west of Cayo Costa.  Johnson Shoals run over a mile into the Gulf and we don’t want to ruin our day by finding the bottom.  The water out here in the Gulf is much clearer than Charlotte Harbor where tannic acid run off from the pine trees makes the estuary a golden brown.  We are able to see breakers rolling over the reef running along the north limit of Boca Grande Channel.  The shallows of Johnson Shoal are also clearly visible to the south side of the channel.  We round the outboard limit of the Shoal and jibe over to port tack.  Once past the shoal we bear more SE toward the beach to take advantage of the flatter water and get a view of the beach home that begin to appear once we are off Captiva.  In deeper water with no obstructions or shallows ahead it is a good time for lunch.  The refrigerator is well stocked for the cruise and fresh sandwiches are produced in short order.  A piece of fruit and a Diet Coke complete the meal.  Sanibel is next with more and larger beach homes and some condos.  The Gulf off Sanibel is relatively deep and we are able to sail south then south east several hundred meters off shore.  Leaving Sanibel in our wake we set a course for a position outside the shallow reef that extends several miles SE of Point Ybel.  A check with the VHF weather stations confirms the wind will be down and shifting more to the ENE in the evening.  We decide to head toward the beach at the south end of Estero Island (Ft. Myers Beach).  The beach runs NW to SE with shallows to the south side of Mantansas Pass, the entrance to the protected mooring field between Estero and the Mainland of Ft. Myers.  We sail SE toward Wiggins Pass intending to sail in the lee of the beaches south toward Naples and Marko Island.  With a steady NE breeze we will be able to anchor just off the beach anywhere between Wiggins Pass and Marco Island.  The NE wind and the long fetch down from San Carlos Pass combine to kick up waves exceeding 3 to 4 feet as we sail in open water between the tip of Sanibel Island and Wiggins Pass.  With a full main and jib sailing 12 to 14 knots becomes uncomfortable so we decide to slow the boat down.  We start the starboard engine and slowly round up into the wind as we furl the jib.  A reef is put in the main using the lines lead back to the starboard side of the cockpit on top of the salon.  We fall off the wind, unfurl the jib and cut the engine.  We are sailing now at 8 to 10 knots but in much greater comfort.

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As we approach the beach the waves decrease.  We trim the jib, ease the main and do a partial round up.  As the main luffs (minimally because of the full battens) we shake out the reef and raise the sail using the electric #44 Lewmar winch at the helm station.  We fall off, the jib is eased and the main trimmed.  With the change in course the apparent wind has moved a little aft so that even with full main and jib we just maintain our 8 to 10 knots.  As the sun sinks low in the western sky we approach Marco Island.  The courts have thrown out the towns silly ordinance restricting anchoring in Factory Bay so we plan to anchor there for the night.  Nearing Big Marco Pass we start the port engine and slowly release the jib sheet as we take in the roller furling line.  The wind is still up so we use the electric Lewmar #44 winch at the aft cockpit crossbeam to roll the jib.  The main halyard is wrapped on the winch, and it is flaked out on deck to facilitate dropping the sail.  All Rope Clutches are opened. The main is dropped as we round up into the wind.  The main halyard is taken off the winch when lowering the main or tacking the jib so the Rope Clutch does not strip the cover off the sheets as it is released.  The Lazy Jacks are rigged down from the spreaders to the top of the “Stack Pack” type sail cover.  While motoring up the channel to Factory Bay in Marco Island the main is secured by climbing onto the hard top Bimini and fastening the “Stack Pack” sail cover.  We motor into Factory Bay and pick a place to anchor as the sun sets.  At the helm the skipper switches the primary windlass to down and the anchor drops.  The Dragon drifts back sideways to the wind.  The snubber is hooked into the anchor chain below deck ahead of the mast support post at the main cross beam.  The cantenary comes out of the anchor chain as the anchor hooks the bottom.  Time to make the salad and put the stakes on the grill.  A glass of Port Wine is savored as the stars come out.

The smell of coffee drifts through the boat at dawn’s early light.  Breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice go well with the fresh coffee.  A check of the weather channels available on our VHF indicate steady NE wind of 10 to 15 knots all day.  We will have a short day today if the weather permits.  We check the chart and note the shallow water south of the outer channel.  We need to sail under 70 miles to reach the south side of Middle Cape Sable by late afternoon.  If we can average 7 to 8 knots for the entire leg we will be at anchor in 8 to 9 hours.  After breakfast one of the crew goes to the bow to direct the skipper to the anchor.  The starboard engine is started and the helmsmen uses the electric windlass to retrieve the anchor chain as we motor toward the anchor.  The windlass is used to retrieve the anchor chain and lift the anchor, not to pull the Dragon up to the anchor against the wind or tide.  With the anchor shipped we motor down the channel and out into the Gulf of Mexico.  Clearing the outer channel marker we round up into the wind and raise the main, then fall off to starboard onto port tack and roll out the jib.  The diesel is shut down and we sail due south until we clear the shallows south of Big Marco Pass.  Heading up more toward the SE and Cape Romano Reef Light.  Several hours after leaving Big Marco Pass we find ourselves 12 miles off the shore of the large bay formed by the Everglades National Park.  This far off shore, on the rum line to Middle Cape Sable we are glad the wind has stayed 8 to 10.  Although we have headed up closer to the wind we are still sailing free in a wind range that will make the Screecher happy.  To roll out the screecher we fall off the wind slightly to decrease the pressure on the sails.  The roller furling line is flaked out in the cockpit and the Rope Clutch opened as we trim the screecher sheet in.  The sheet is trimmed to the track at the starboard toe rail and runs back to a large turning block at the rail under the outboard traveler track support..  From here it turns 90 degrees inboard to be trimmed using the mechanical #44 Lewmar winch mounted on the starboard cockpit back support.  Once this sail is controlled we head up back onto course to Middle Cape Sable and trim the main and screecher.  This done the pressure on the jib is reduced and it is furled using the electric winch at the back of the cockpit as the jib sheet is eased.  The Dragon is now sailing happily at 8 to 10 knots in under 3’ seas toward this evening’s anchorage.  Several hours later as Cape Romano Reef Light disappears over the horizon to the NNW lunch is prepared.  Today we are having potato salad, a ham and cheese sandwich, a banana (yes we do allow bananas on this boat) and a Gatorade.  Cold water (from the filters mounted in the refrigerator) is available at the “kitchen sink” for any thirsty crew but the skipper wants to be sure the crew stays well hydrated during our off shore passages.  

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After several hours of exhilarating sailing the green mangrove shore of the Everglades is seen on the horizon.  We are still sailing conformably at 8 to 9 knots and, as we get closer to the shore the fetch decreases and the waves decrease.  The white beaches of Cape Sable begin to come into view.  We check the chart noting that there are only minimal shallows off the points but at our compass heading we will have no problem sailing directly to a way point 1/2 mile off Middle Cape Sable.  Several “Park Marks” are printed on the chart but as we will be approaching before sunset they will be easily visible.  We will just need to identify the marks as we approach them to assure one of them doesn’t “jump out in front of us” if we get distracted.  The sun is getting lower in the western sky as we approach Middle Cape Sable.  Now past the Cape we are well sheltered by the land and head up as high as we can sail toward the beach.  The beach south of Middle Cape Sable runs almost due East and then slowly sweeps to the South for several miles.  This North and East protection plus the good holding ground makes this an ideal place to anchor, if the wind is right.  We check the VHF weather channels and a front is predicted to reach us by late tomorrow afternoon but the wind will be light out of the NE tonight.  Because of the predicted light winds we decide to anchor 3 or 4 tens of a mile off the beach so we do not feed the mosquitos or no-see-ums.  As the sky is clear and there is nothing West of us but the Gulf of Mexico we have a chance to see a “Green Flash” at sunset tonight.  We sail SE  by E for a mile then fall off sharply to furl the screecher.  The port engine is started and we round up and drop the main.  The Lazy Jacks and “Stack Pack” collect the main when the halyard is released from the winch drum.  Crew stows the main as the helmsman motors up wind toward the beach.  The motor is put into neutral as we approach .4 NM from the beach.  We are in 3 meters of water.  The windlass switch is pushed down and the anchor drops.  As the wind takes the Dragon slowly down wind the anchor chain plays out.  A crew watches the chain as it runs from the locker through the electric windlass ahead of the main crossbeam.  The colored segments of chain are noted as the Dragon moves away from the anchor.  A little past 70’ he places the SS yoke(hook) over a link, the cantenary straightens as the Dragon moves back and the anchor digs in.  The bow is pulled into the wind, the vessels stops and, as the cantenary in the chain reforms the Dragon moves slowly up wind.  A bridle is fixed to the anchor chain, one line attached to each bow.  This will prevent wide swings at anchor.  We are the only cruiser in sight.  The chili has been heating on the stove.  Tonight we will be having a Taco Salad with the spicy chili ladled over taco chips and lettuce.  Another one plate meal.  We will be washing the salad down with Corona beer.  We gather in the cockpit and watch the Sun set.  One of the crew tells the story of winning drinks from flatlanders in a bar in Key West with bets about how long it takes the Sun to set once the lower rim touches the horizon.  Most land men, looking at the large ball of the Sun near Sunset will think it will take 10 or 15 minutes.  In fact it is less than 3 minutes.  We watch  as the sun sinks into the Gulf.  As the last fractions of arc degrees count down we see a color shift from yellow to orange and, just as that last small oval bubble of orange plasma is about to disappear, the color shifts to green!  We toast the flash with our Corona and the same crewman who won those bets in Key West notes that you are not an alcoholic if only drink when there is a toast.         

From there south to Cape Sable and on to the Keys.  From Boot Key Harbor in Key Vaca (Marathon, Florida) across the Gulf Stream to Cat and Gun Cays (pronounced “Keys”).  A sail across the Great Bahama Bank will bring us to Fresh Creek on the east side of Andros Island.  After a few days of exploring blue holes, a day sail to the NE will put us into Nassau Harbor on New Providence Island.  Several days and fresh conch salads from “Shelly’s” stand on Potters Cay later we will sail to Allan’s Cay, at the north end of the Exuma chain.  In a shallow draft catamaran we are able to anchor in the smaller, shallower south horse shoe bay.  Shallow water and deep sand bounded on two three sides make for a very snug anchorage.  We take a short swim into the beach at the south end of the mini bay before the sun gets too low to meet the prehistoric lizards found only on this Cay.  The next morning after lifting our two “Bahamian Moor” anchors we power through the east gap and set sail on the bank east of the Exuma chain.  Sailing in the lee of the Exuma chain south from Allan’s we anchor at Staniel Cay and swim the Thunderball Grotto.  Another short day of sailing south a laid back anchorage is found at Farmer’s Cay.  Because of our shallow draft we are able to anchor in shallow water with our anchors in deep sand.  Several evenings at Ocean Cabin and the Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club give us a real feel for the place.  A dingy ride a mile north of the inside entrance brings us to “Oven Rock”.  With the dingy pulled up on the beach we take the path across the Cay toward the east.  About 1/2 way across we come to a large termite next and turn up the hill.  Near the top a large cave with a fresh water pond inside is explored.  Later, leaving Farmer’s, we finally sail into Great Exuma Harbor and anchor in Kid’s Cove, just off Georgetown.  A dingy ride under the roadway bridge (with sign facing the water that reads, “Bridge Ices Before Roadway”) into Victoria Lake provides us with a dingy dock and fresh water fill behind the Exuma Market.  After a week or so of civilization and uptight, newbee, over organized cruisers, it is time to head out the south east cut toward Goat Cay cut and down to the Jumentos.  We find very few more experienced cruisers, few Bahamians and no stores.  The vessel must really be self contained to sail here.  After a week of fishing and hunting (the elusive lobster) we head back north up the Exuma chain to Black Point.  After a dinner at Loraine’s Restaurant we head back to the Dragon for a check of the charts and an early night.  In the morning we sail west across the Deca Channel and out across the Tongue of the Ocean back to Fresh Creek on Andros.  In the early morning a sail north takes us to the NW Passage at the top of Andros Island.  After a long day of sailing across the Bahama Banks we pull into the anchorage behind Cat Cay.  It is dark when we arrive so we travel by depth sounder, radar and the hand held GPS.  The depth of the Great Bahama Bank between NW Passage and Cat is between 3 and 4 meters with no shallows or coral heads so, with proper navigation equipment, approaching Cat Cay after dark is not a problem.  Using radar and GPS we approach the western beach of Cat Cay and switch on the forward anchoring lights.  These lights located below the trampolines facing forward light up the bottom in this crystal clear water.  We anchor clear of debris seen on the bottom to avoid a snag.  In the morning a short sail to the north takes us to the old WW II cement ship sunk on the banks between Gun Cay and South Bimini Island.  Anchoring behind the ship we spend several hours snorkeling the wreck.  The anchor is pulled and we sail into Bimini harbor where we pick up a mooring.  The cut into Bimini is tricky.  Two sticks on the beach are used as range markers to guide us across the outer reef.  Once inside the reef a sharp left turn to the north brings us into Bimini harbor.  Bimini is good for a couple of days of relaxation and bar stool sailing.  A walk to the beach at the north end provides us with a spectacular view of the sunset.  Off shore a short distance is the “Bimini Road”, a rock formation that some who love unsolved mysteries believe is part of Atlantis.  Our weather window arrives and we sail back to Florida arriving at the south end of Key Biscayne.  Motoring through the channel allows us to view “Stiltsville”, a collection of houses built on top of the reef in very shallow water.  Motoring north along the west shore of Key Biscayne toward Bear Cut takes us to Crandon Park Marina.  We moor for fuel at the first dock we have used in a long time.  A call to Customs/Immigration allows us to clear back into the USA using our cruising stamp numbers.  A short sail to the south down Biscayne Bay and we anchor for the evening behind Soldier Key.  We are up at first light, raise the anchor and sail down the Bay through Arsnicker Channel and Jewfish Creek.  The new 65 foot bridge is almost completed.  After sailing past Key Largo and Islamorada we turn NW toward Yacht Channel cut leaving the protected waters of Florida Bay behind.  At the end of a long sail we put down the anchor just south of Middle Cape Sable, far enough off shore to elude the no-see-ums and mosquitos.  This anchorage has deep sand and protection from wind from the north and east.  The next day another long sail takes us north past Cape Romano, Marko Island and Naples.  As the sun sets we sail toward Ft Myers Beach and anchor off shore in 10 feet of water and the wind shadow of the condos along the beach.  The next morning the wind has gone enough north that sailing outside in the Gulf would be uncomfortable so we elect to motor north under the new 70 foot Sanibel Causeway Bridge.  A couple of miles north toward the Caloosahatchee River the channel splits and we turn west transiting the “Miserable Mile” past the south end of Pine Island and St. James City.  The ICW then turns north as we pass Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge to the south and west of the channel.

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As we near Cabbage and Useppa Keys the wind has gone more north and the tide is still raising so we decide to turn north east between Useppa Key and the north west tip of Pine Island.  This will shorten our voyage by several miles and keep us off the lower arm of Charlotte Harbor a bit longer.  As we pass through the narrow, shallow channel just before we enter Charlotte Harbor, our depth sounder shows we have about .1 to .3 meters under our keel.  We turn east and sail on a tight reach east until we near Burnt Store Marina then harden up and head NE beating toward Punta Gorda.  After several tacks and an hour of sailing hard on the wind we are finally off Ponce de Leon inlet.  We fire up the engines, furl the jib and steer head to wind to drop the main.  Another 20 minutes of powering up the channel and we come within site of our home dock.

Although this has been a “fantasy” cruise and simply a day dream, it is a reasonably accurate representation of what may be expected living on the Dragon for a month or so.  Shorter cruises focused more on the destination rather than the voyage would also be enjoyable.  Sarasota, Ft. Myers, Naples and Marko Island are a day sail away.  A two day sail takes you to the keys for a visit to Key West and/or the Dry Tortugas or north to Crystal River and Tarpon Springs.  Three days of sailing takes you to Miami or Bimini.  The sailing is spectacular and the destinations are world class vacation spots.    

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Millennium Dragon’s Playground

The Dragon’s lair is located within easy reach of the safest, least expensive cruising grounds in the world.  If you are not a US citizen, a couple month circumnavigation of Cuba is only 90 miles south of Key West or and easy three day sail from Punta Gorda.  The crystal clear waters of the Caribbean are waiting for you, what are you waiting for?

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Still interested?  Need more information?  Contact me at:
Captain Roger Strube
2560 Rio Palermo Ct
Punta Gorda, FL 33950
Home:    941.639.6232
Cell:       941.661.4579

wingsailorflorida@yahoo.com
rogerstrube@embarqmail.com

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