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Peaceful Days

Travelogue - May 15, 2011
"Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room."
--Christie Todd Whitman

Until now, all of our treks northward from the Keys have been run under a pressing schedule. This would be our first leisurely transit and as long as the weather held we intended to enjoy it.

Friday, April 8, 2011: We left the hustle and bustle of Boot Key Harbor, at a respectable 8:00 a.m. Our course paralleling the Seven-Mile Bridge was a tad bumpy as we experienced the usual Atlantic swells on our beam. But soon we crossed under the Seven Mile Bridge at Moser Cut and were protected in the lee of the Keys. We turned to the north-northwest and set our course to round Cape Sable.

The day was perfect for a glorious cruise across Florida Bay, right. It was the kind of day featured in brochures published to tempt the unwary into buying a boat.

La dee dah. Nothing happened.

We saw endless blue sky, endless blue water all around, punctuated by a few fishing boats. We had no problems. Ho hum.

By 4:00 pm we were snugly anchored at the southeast corner of Ponce de Leon Bay (25º 20' 23" N 081º 08' 39" W) where we rocked in the conflicting forces of wind, incoming tide and outflowing Shark River current. But we were secure and we settled in for a relaxing evening.

Night at Ponce de Leon Bay

We swung at anchor on the very fringes of the Everglades. From the distant shore came a deep moaning growl followed by strange clicking. The sound was familiar from Wild Kingdom. I never got a glimpse of its source but it sounded like wild-ness.

We didn't go swimming.

Throughout the afternoon and evening a procession of sailboats and trawlers arrived from points north and south, all heading into the Little Shark River for the night. Indeed, upriver is protected and safe but as a result it can be suffocatingly hot, miserably odiferous at low tide, and abuzz with carnivorous insects.

Outside in the Bay we admired a glorious sunset, left.

We were sheltered in the lee of the mainland yet a breeze would keep us cool and fresh. And the breeze would keep the no-see-ums at bay. Or so we thought.

In addition to the no-see-ums, Everglades mosquitos are legendary. They are as big as bats and sailors are advised to bring a shotgun. We startled at the menacing BUZZ of their approach, slapping around at the air, until Rick realized that the mosquitos were hovering OUTSIDE the screens. They were so loud we thought they were poised right over our ears.

Lights out, and that's when we realized that we should have put up the screens as soon as we arrived: mosquitos and no-see-ums had snuck aboard under cover of a lull, and they began their campaign of persecution.

This is the part they don't include in the brochure.

We thrashed and slapped around for awhile. No good. Then we tried laying pieces of no-see-um net over our faces, but the tight weave proved difficult to breath through.

Rick finally tied a bandana over his head and face, leaving a small breathing hole over his mouth.

I donned a cap and used its bill as a tent pole to support the netting off my face. Then I clipped the edges of the netting to my pillowcase with clothespins and alligator clips, thus securing my perimeter. We slept, lashed in place like two Gullivers under siege by Lilliputians.

Two of the Ten Thousand Islands

Saturday, April 9: We made another early start and enjoyed yet another exquisite day cruising the blue waters of the Gulf. Nothing happened.

By 2:30 we had set our hook off Panther Key in the Ten Thousand Islands. Then we hoisted the anchor and set it again a hundred feet further northwest and in deeper water. It was all good, and for the next two peaceful days and nights, below right, we shared the cove with only a few fishermen, a dab of dolphins and a plethora of pelicans...

...and the nefarious no-see-ums, still aboard and persistent. But eventually the pests were all either evicted or well-fed, and peace reigned in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge:

Ten Thousand Islands NWR is located in Collier County on the southwest coast of Florida. Established in 1996, this 35,000 acres refuge protects important mangrove habitats and a rich diversity of native wildlife, including several endangered species.

The refuge is part of the largest expanses of mangrove forest in North America. Approximately two thirds of the refuge is mangrove forest, which dominates most tidal fringes and the numerous islands (or keys)...

Roughly 200 species of fish have been documented in the area and much of the sea grass beds and mangrove bottoms serve as vital nursery areas for marine fish. Over 189 species of birds use the refuge at some time during the year. Prominent bird groups include wading birds, shorebirds, diving water birds, and raptors. Common mammals found in the area include raccoon, river otter, and bottle-nosed dolphins.

Notable threatened and endangered species include West Indian manatee, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, wood stork, and the Atlantic loggerhead, green, and Kemp's Ridley sea turles

Monday, April 11: Panther Key does not afford reliable cell nor internet service - that's part of its charm. And although the stillness was a tremendous relief from the hustle and bustle of Boot Key Harbor, on Monday morning we weighed anchor and 90 minutes later we reset it in one of our favorite reliable-internet anchorages, Tripod Key.

We've had wonderful times in Tripod Key, mostly peaceful and sometimes too exciting. But this time the weather remained calm and our only company was a few day boats and dolphins.

Nothing happened.

On Tuesday morning we dinghied across to the town of Goodland. We circumnavigated the island on the ICW channel and on the landward side we pulled in to the floating dinghy dock provided by Marker 8 restaurant.

As we tied up here came another dinghy, motoring over from the sailing vessel About Time. We recognized the catamaran as one which had been moored only a few boats away from Sea Gator at Boot Key Harbor - imagine that. By the time everybody's coffee arrived we were sharing a table with Dee and Lee.

It was fun to compare anchorages and anchoring catastrophes - other peoples', especially - with them.

Soon Lee and Dee motored away to prepare for the coming day's sail. Rick and I walked to Goodland's tiny but official Post Office, then made a very brief stroll back to the dinghy dock. No exercise here, but there was Work waiting aboard.

The next day we took Bump Head out to the inlet and visited the little island of Coon Key, above and right. The entire island appeared to be composed of broken shell. We enjoyed a slow stroll on its beach, returning just in time to rescue Bump Head from an embarrassing stranding as the tide went out. Seriously, that hardly ever happens. He was a good sport about it.

Peace and Rest

While we had truly enjoyed our time in Boot Key Harbor we didn't realize how tiring all the hustle and bustle had been, until we settled into these nine days of quiet solitude. We spent our days Working and enjoying the quiet, and at the end of it we sported refreshed minds and well-rested bodies.

Thursday, April 14: Northward on one of my favorite passages: the Marco River, left. The river cuts an easy arc inland between Goodland and Marco, eliminating the necessity to veer far out and around the Cape Romano Shoals.

There was an osprey nest on each channel marker, and even Goldie emerged from her travel locker to blink around in the morning light, below right.

But there was nothing for her to see. Nothing happened. Soon she returned to her nest and went back to sleep.

Rick piloted the only tricky section - one mile of unmarked arrow-straight and narrow passage between shallows - with ease and we cruised past Marco Island and out into the Gulf at Big Marco Pass.

This cruise was a little rolly - it always seems to be so on this leg - and we rocked a bit before the winds clocked to the east around mid-day. By 2:30 we rounded Bowditch Point off Ft. Myers Beach, and we pulled in to the shelter of Matanzas Pass.

Mooring #2

How do we rate? As we slid under the Matanzas Bridge we were surprised to spot Mooring #2 open and available. Hmmm... Last January this prime locale "belonged" to Jim and Julie of Calypso, but she was nowhere to be seen... Surely Jim and Julie would have left a float if they intended to return... We decided to take Sea Gator's place in the front row and be grateful.

Just then here came a dinghy, with George aboard! He idled by while we tied up, then filled Rick in on Jenna Star's genset problems and solutions.

Meanwhile, ashore, I strong-armed the office attendant into phoning Jim and Julie to verify their departure. And soon after we returned to Sea Gator, here came Jim on his dinghy! He laughed, "Well well, the office told us someone was on this mooring, but we didn't know it was you." He told us that he was just passing through; that Calypso had moved for a change of scenery. It was good to see him and we made tentative plans to get together with them in the coming week. YAY!

Adventuring

Friday, April 15: We enjoyed a lovely evening with Pam and Frank at Rick's favorite harbor-side restarant The Big Game. It was good to catch up after the winter. Pam has been working at their nearby land-base while Frank lives a bachelor's life aboard Blackfoot, outfitting her for their cruise north. On our way back to the moorings we stopped by Blackfoot for a tour. Thanks, Frank and Pam!

On our way through the harbor we watched the catamaran Trinity slide to a graceful stop on their mooring. We were happy to reconnect with Tom and Linda, whom we had met at the "Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage lunch" in Marathon, and we made tentative plans to get together with them in the coming week as well.

Saturday, April 16: Nancy and George made the long hike up from their marina to meet us at Reese's for breakfast.

Afterward we all hopped on the Island Trolley for a ride down to Lover's Key, and some nice hiking along the trails, left, and back by way of the beach, below right.

There were no attacks by wildlife, no sinking into quicksand on the beach, no encounters with bizarre mangrove-dwellers... I hardly know how to report such serenity.

On the return trip we stopped for lunch in the air-conditioned luxury of Jenna Star, and nobody fell overboard stepping to or from the dock. Thanks, Nancy and George!

Hallucinations

Rick and I walked the beach home. Squinting against the bright sky I saw thousands of black gnats. The swarm was interrupted by a flock of black birds and dulled by a billowing fog. Neither Rick nor the frolicking spring breakers seemed troubled by the impending Hitchcock-esque carnage... Now, I thought, this is more like it!

But then I remembered the jagged lightening flashes I'd hallucinated several days previous. Hmmm...

What does one do in a strange town, when the busses are finished for the day? One relies upon the kindness of strangers (as we learned in February) or phones a trusted friend (as we learned in January). I phoned Pam. She was SO kind: she canceled her pedicure, immediately turned her car around and picked us up at Bonita Bill's dinghy dock. Thank you, Pam!!

Long hours and one expensive (and unnecessary, as I TOLD them) CAT-scan later, we were released for the night with admonitions to take it easy and to see a retina specialist first thing Monday morning. We waited five hours for that?!? We decided we would trouble Pam for rides no further.

Sunday, April 17: Alas, mooring #2 was short, but sweet. Regretfully, at first light we motored away from Ft. Myers Beach on the first leg of our premature journey home.

People who hallucinate insects, birds and death-fogs do not drive big boats on crowded channels; they build a reclining padded lounger on the topside lockers and "take it easy" as instructed. So Rick piloted the entire nine hours by himself, and at 4:00 he made a perfect landfall at la Marina des Rick's family.

Rick's mom, Lu, came down to the dock to greet us and she hugged and hugged and hugged her son.

Goldie moved right in to her old haunts in the house and was quick to take advantage of the predictable sun patterns on the lanai, left. As far as she's concerned, everything is fine and perfectly normal.

As it turns out, she was right.

Long story shorter, we eventually learned that my problem was not a psychotic break nor a detached retina, but "posterior vitreous detachment". Poorer in funds yet richer in knowledge, we settled in at la Marina for a week of Work and post-traumatic rest.

Vatican Splendors - A Journey Through Faith and Art

Wednesday, April 20: Lu and I embarked on a cultural expedition. We had planned the mission for some time, and the only good result from last weekend's upset was that now we didn't have to rendezvous in the wilds of Lee County; we simply piled into the car and drove away together...

I-75 flushed us south to Marco, then east onto 'Alligator Alley'. We did not see any alligators. Not one. But we saw reinforced chainlink fences which were, evidently, proof against 'gators.

Three-and-a-half hours later we roared into Ft. Lauderdale in one of six high-speed lanes hurtling toward the Atlantic. We found lunch at a shaded sidewalk cafe and then we strolled the burning streets to the Ft. Lauderdale Art Museum - arriving with ten minutes to spare for our scheduled entry to the Vatican Splendors exhibit:

"Vatican Splendors: A Journey through Faith and Art" features approximately 200 works of art and historically significant objects, many of which have never left the Vatican. Every object in the exhibition tells its own story, together forming a great mosaic of the history of the Church and its impact on western civilization's art, history and culture.

The collections are organized to provide a window to the Vatican's role in the world, with objects marking events throughout 2,000 years of history and tradition. The exhibit experience is designed to take guests on a journey through the ages of artistic expression and religious iconography...

We were swept along in the tide of museum-goers, traversing centuries each minute (see Exhibition Gallery Layout and Artistic Highlights). By 500 A.D. I had already become separated from Lu - last I saw of her she was studying a model of the ancient Basilica, while I doubled back against the current to review and compare the sketch of St. Peter's tomb - and I didn't see her again for 1500 years.

As a novice intent on chronology I found the exhibit's layout - focusing as it did on artistic technique and church traditions, rather than precise historical sequence - disorienting at first. It wasn't until the Reformation that I began to get my bearings.

Suddenly I rounded a corner and there, straight ahead, large and solid and glowing beneath a pure white light, was the Pieta (right):

The Pietà (1498-1499) is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist... It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed... Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands...

A 1932 copy, from which this replica was cast, was used for reference during restoration after a nut job hacked up the original marble work in 1972.

Well. Now I was grounded; I knew where I was physically, chronologically and emotionally. That statue introduced a wonderful discussion about Michelangelo, which led into a display on the centuries-long effort to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica (viola, left); which led to a display of historic vestments, a 15th-century processional cross, and a king's ransom (literally, I imagine) of historic altar pieces beautifully wrought.

The finale was a bronze cast of the handprint of John Paul II. You could put your hand in his hand, which proved to be a far more moving experience than I anticipated, even though Judy had told me several times that it was so.

"Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning."
From a 1999 letter from Pope John Paul to the Artists of the World.

When I emerged into the present day I found Lu relaxing in the museum's Cafe, sipping coffee and reading her book. She had studied every label and enjoyed the exhibit as much as I had, but she shaved a half-hour from her tour by not frittering away 40 years in the desert, so to speak.

Lu said she appreciated the refresher on Church history, which was not news to her. What was news and what she enjoyed the most were the ways in which classical art and church teachings were interwoven. Regarding the in-depth treatment of the subject, she enthused "I loved how the audio tour gave you even more information after you read the description."

Note: Lu revealed only later that she had agreed to the trip only to please me and she hadn't really thought she'd find much in an art museum to interest her. Whereas I organized the expedition only because I thought she would enjoy it, not expecting to find the church part too riveting for myself. Each of us thought we were doing a favor to please the other, but since we both brought our open minds we both enjoyed it and were both glad. YAY!

The exhibit was beautifully done, we agreed: it successfully conveyed a gargantuan topic in a limited space. Attendees, commenting in the Guestbook at the end of the exhibit, observed - accurately - that the exhibit's designers handily ignored the multitude of crimes (historic and modern) perpetrated by the Church. But, hey - it's their exhibition and they can do as they please; it was not advertised as an exposé.

Well, what a day. On the way back to our hotel we enjoyed the excellent pedestrian walkways along the New River, right.

We saw this lovely boat dedicated to Lu! A nice man walking his dog paused to let us pet the dog then to take our picture, left. Hmm, it appears we walked all around the upscale downtown shopping district with museum entry stickers plastered to our blouses. C'est la vie.

We finished off the day with a nice shopping extravaganza, a fine dinner at a sidewalk cafe, and restful sleep at the historic Riverside Hotel.

The next day we took the long way home...

The Scenic Route

We got ourselves out of Ft. Lauderdale - no easy feat, incidentally - and then quickly exited the interstate in favor of the more rural State Highway 27.

Our first stop was Sawgrass Recreation Park for sodas, a bathroom break and a quick perusal of every alligator-themed souvenir one could possibly want, which was none. But it was fun to watch the airboats fly in and swing to a perfect landing alongside the dock, right.

We continued north through the Everglades Wildlife Management/Water Conservation Area, which quickly gave way to agricultural lands including the King Ranch sugar cane fields. I knew they raised beef in Texas, but sugar in Florida? That was a surprise.

We reached the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee at Belle Glade, and there we turned west to skirt the lake. I admit, it was much less interesting from the land side. And that's saying something. All we could see was the gigantic levee, at least 30' high, below left. I'm sure the rigid geometry was a civil engineer's dream, but it was pretty dull stuff to two civilians fresh from a tour of classical art.

Eventually we reached Clewiston, and Lu and I clambered up to the top of the levee at the town lock's boat launch. There we observed the Okeechobee Waterway's entry into the Lake. Sea Gator had plied these waters mere months before - it seemed such a long time ago! The Lake was even lower now than it was then. Lu and I watched a trawler emerge from the distance - appearing to glide through a field of grass as it navigated the channel - and I wondered how her people felt, knowing as I did that they'd only had a few feet of water under their keel for the past several hours.

As we continued west we encountered a series of towns that I'd only experienced from the water before, and it was fun to see LaBelle and the turnoff to Franklin Locks from the land.

We made it to la Marina safe and sound by mid afternoon, and I thanked Lu for her patience. Although she has surely lost faith in my judgment of what constitutes "scenic", she was a very good sport. Thanks, Lu!

Last Cruise - Cayo Costa

Monday, April 25: We hit the waters again, and what can I say? Nothing happened.

We enjoyed an entire week at the sheltered east pocket at Pelican Bay BY OURSELVES!! No other boats came in, even on the weekend. I guess it was pretty rough on the harbor so folks weren't looking for an outing. But in the anchorage we were protected and we had a good week of Work aboard.

Ashore, it was hot and still. Rick went running on the Park trails a few times; I did some fast walking; and we had one fine beach day. One day we dinghied to Cabbage Key for lunch (cheeseburgers in paradise, right) and on our last day we anchored Bump Head in the manatee cove, where we saw several manatees "breach" at a distance.

This was a wonderful way to end our cruising season.

Sunday, May 1: we returned to la Marina to begin a week of cleaning and packing and taking Sea Gator virtually apart and putting her back together, all for a safe and restful summer.

Friday, May 6 we brought Sea Gator safely to All American Boat Storage. Lifting and bracing a big boat is always an amazing sight to see - check it out at travelogue Prepping Sea Gator for Hibernation.

After Sea Gator was tucked in we started on the house. I put in some landscape plants for Lu, and Rick replaced the ceiling fan in the lanai. And those two Boston Celtic fans watched a healthy amount of basketball. Goldie and I, reading in another room, accurately predicted the score based on the whoops and groans emanating from the living room. All four of us were entertained.

New Friends

Jan and I have been corresponding since last year, thanks to her initiative. To our mutual astonishment, we realized that her house is just a six-minute bike ride from Lu's house. So we finally got together in person, when Rick and I rode on over. They very kindly entertained us in their lovely home, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening with Jan and her husband Tracy, right.

Jan and Tracy had taken Wandering Star around the Great Circle (the "Loop") - which is one of our dream trips as well. The route took them up the east coast, up the New York canals, across the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, up the Ohio, down the Ten Tom Waterway to the Gulf, and across the Gulf to Florida. It was fun to hear about their adventures, and to share tales of our more modest cruising season.

It was also fun to discuss work, as Tracy and Jan are the former owners of a techno company. They and Rick had all been in on the ground floor of the P.C. revolution, and they shared a lot of experiences in common.

Later, Jan and I enjoyed a good book.

Thanks, Jan and Tracy!

Bugs...

From the sublime to the horrific...

When clouds of black dots swarmed before our eyes I feared a relapse. But Rick confirmed that we really were in a barrage of "love bugs". Ew.

Lovebug flights can number in the hundreds of thousands. The slow, drifting movement of the insects is almost reminiscent of snow fall except the flies also rise in the air. Two major flights occur each year, first in late spring, then again in late summer... Flights extend over periods of four to five weeks.

They plagued us across Charlotte Harbor on all three of our recent crossings, and turned Sea Gator's pristine white deck into a pastiche of whole bugs, dying bugs, dead bugs, crawling bugs; parts of bugs, bugs apart; innards, outards, and just plain turds. The dockhand at Burnt Store Marina told us "They are so thick I didn't have to stop for lunch." No wonder few locals braved the cruise to Pelican Bay in their nice shiny boats:

This species' reputation as a public nuisance is due not to any bite or sting (it is incapable of either) but to its slightly acidic body chemistry. Because airborne lovebugs can exist in enormous numbers near highways, they die en masse on automobile windshields, hoods, and radiator grills when the vehicles travel at high speeds. If left for more than an hour or two, the remains become dried and extremely difficult to remove. Their body chemistry has a nearly neutral 6.5 pH but may become acidic at 4.25 pH if left on the car for a day... [carcasses] often result in pits and etches in automotive paint and chrome... excessive clogging of vehicle radiator air passages with the bodies of the adults and the obstruction of windshields when the remains of the adults and egg masses are smeared on the glass.

The bugs are oblivious to any waving or swatting or stamping; they'll gently drift into your face and down your neck and up your sleeve, la dee dah. You can't shoo them away; they don't shoo. You can't sweep them off; they cling, and when you swipe them they combust into gloopy parts. They hide under railings and inside coils of docklines, and they will stay there all benign and oblivious and invisible until they get squished under or, worse, between your fingers.

The "love bug" Plecia nearctica is a member of the family of march flies. It is also known as the honeymoon fly, kissing bug or double-headed bug... During and after mating, adult pairs remain coupled, even in flight, for up to several days...

They certainly do drift aimlessly, what with their minds being elsewhere and all. We waved and scolded like a pair of camp counselors: "Pay attention! Stop that, eww, get OFF!" It was futile.

But the love bug infestation certainly gave everyone around town something in common to talk about.

Bugs...

Did I mention the no-see-ums, still hovering around in the mangroves? And mosquitos, from before? I suppose I did...

And More Bugs...

What could happen next? Yes, that's right: fire ants at the boat yard. I didn't mean to step in their nest, I was just trying to plug in an extension cord for Rick:

The fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) is a wingless member of the order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps and bees. It is a potentially lethal environmental hazard in the United States, infesting more than 310 million acres of land.

If unsure whether you are dealing with fire ants or regular ants it won't take long for them to let you know. The disturbed and aggressive fire ants will swarm onto you and with a signal all the female ants will bite your skin and insert their stinger and quickly inject venom in that spot and rotate around and inject more venom nearby.

The immediate and correct response is to kill all you can find on you immediately...

No kidding. This last instruction is best carried out while shrieking hysterically. And repeatedly, as the fiends kept launching new attacks from hiding beneath the straps of my sandals. 25, count 'em, 25 stings on my foot and ankle.

Per WebMD and the ladies at the downtown Jazzercise class, I treated the wounds with rubbing alcohol, cortisone cream, antihistamines and copious quantities of medical-grade chocolate. No photos; if you want to be grossed out by the effect of fire ant venom in human skin you can google it.

Florida has lost its charm. Stick me with a fork, I'm done.

Heat

Wyoming neighbors had begun to phone us with reports that it was snowing in the valley AGAIN! They are purely fed up with a winter that won't end.

Tuesday, May 10 was our last day at the boat yard. It was 95 degrees. You heard me. We finished our final hours of indoor chores after battening all windows and hatches; our beloved Sea Gator heated up like a sweatbox a la "Cool Hand Luke". We finished our tasks and staggered outside, locked the helm door, clambered down the ladder, loaded the car, and waved adieu. Have a nice nap, Sea Gator!

Lu safely made her flights home, and then Rick and I summer-ized her house using Don's old checklist and the handy-dandy Family Estate illustrate guidebook created specially for the purpose.

Home

Saturday, May 14: We awoke at 3:00 am, tranq'ed Goldie, secured the house, and drove our rental car to Tampa. We had an uneventful flight home - nothing happened - and touched down in our beautiful snowy town by early afternoon.

Our place was indeed under snow and we left the car at the bottom of the driveway, but it's not that long a hike, right.

The house smelled of dust and neglect, but that would be remedied over the next several days. Many of our trees have suffered wildlife damage, sigh. My car smelled like a Habitrail, but that will never be cured as long as we live in the country. I found my keys immediately and now I have only to wonder what they are all for.

First thing Sunday morning, Rick clipped into his skis and headed for the hills. He made it to the top of the ridge and back down, skiing non-stop all the way to the porch with a smile on his face.

On Sunday afternoon I drove to town for dinner with friends and was happy to be "home", left.

Well, that's it for Sea Gator's travelogues for the 2010-2011 season. Thanks for all the good times and friendship this winter!!

Take care, everybody! Stay cool...

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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