Front Rudder - March 2018

Triumphs And Tragedies

It’s midwinter and I’m feeling a bit blase. It’s not exactly sailing season here (Minnesota) or in San Francisco for that matter. It is Super Bowl week and I am attending many of the festivities. After I finish this I’m heading down where I will be zip-lining across the Mississippi River from Harriet Island to downtown Minneapolis in subzero weather conditions.

Then, of course, it’s off to the Winter Palace that is made of 700 pound ice blocks and if I’m game I can take a ski-run bonsai from the St. Paul’s Cathedral down the hill at a terrifying speed past the Excel Center into the center of downtown. Oh yes, then there is football!

Much of what is here was in San Francisco 2 years ago. The new US Bank football stadium however is cool compared to what is in Santa Clara. Yes, Minnesota fans are depressed about the Vikings and they can’t wait to show the Philadelphia fans some brotherly love!

Anyway, what does this have to do with sailing and yachting? Absolutely nothing! It is just a Northern Hemisphere reality in February. So, what that means is we are going to escape to a place where there are some incredible sailing events taking place and day dream a little about Opening Day on the Bay, which is just a few short months away. As are the Giants!

First off, is the ongoing Volvo Ocean Race, featured last month and still in play. Unfortunately, all the news is not good. One of the teams was on the verge of a podium finish and just 30 miles short of the finish when they collided with a fishing vessel outside of the entry of busy Hong Kong harbor.

Then it’s a look at one of the world’s premier races; the Rolex Sydney to Hobart featuring the ongoing rivalry between Wild Oates and Comanche. The thrilling back and forth race was decided for the most part by a dumb penalty right after the start. It’s fascinating to look at that race and realize that they finish on a river! Imagine if that race stopped here and they raced through the Delta with the finish line in Stockton.

Then we hear from Lia Ditton again and her struggles with her Trans-Pacific rowing adventure, which may have been a bit ambitious from the start. But, Ditton has always reached for the stars and usually gotten there.

Sadly, we conclude on the tragic passing of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee whose office reached out and was very accommodating during the America’s Cup years here. But, let’s go West and start with the rising sun in China.

They did it! Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag has won Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Melbourne, Australia to their home port of Hong Kong!

It’s an historic win for skipper David Witt and his team who had to overcome significant setbacks on the leg before grabbing the lead with a bold tactical call out of the Doldrums after leaving Melbourne.

“We had a bit of a plan and we stuck to it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and this time it worked for us,“ said skipper David Witt. “It was an extended Doldrums crossing, and Scallywag had moments where we appeared to be in a strong position.“

But late in the crossing after falling behind the fleet again, Witt and navigator Libby Greenhalgh made the decision to cut the corner and turn to the west earlier than the opposition who kept pressing north in search of stronger winds.

The move paid dividends nearly immediately on the leader board as Scallywag had fewer miles to sail to the finish line, but pundits cautioned that the teams in the north would almost certainly overhaul them as the trade winds filled in from the northeast. It never happened.

Even when the team dropped miles to recover a man overboard after Alex Gough was swept off the boat by a wave. Executing a flawless recovery, Scallywag returned to racing and extended to nearly a 100-mile lead. But then, the chasing boats began chipping away at the lead. Two days out from the finish, the margin had been cut significantly and the pressure mounted.

“I was really impressed by the way we operated over the past couple of days,“ Witt said. “We had a pretty big lead and then, through no fault of our own, about two-thirds of it got taken away. But we stuck to our guns, did what we thought was right and it’s worked out.“

With the Leg 4 win, Scallywag picks up 8 points (7 points for first place plus a one point win bonus). It will vault the team up to mid-fleet on the overall leader board, in a very respectable fourth place.

“It was always going to take us longer than the others to get up to speed as we were the last to enter,“ Witt said. “All teams need a bit of confidence and I think one thing that is underrated in sport is momentum and this will certainly give the Scallywags plenty of that… We’re all still learning and we’re going to keep getting better as we go on.“

Witt has acknowledged the significance of the win as the local team leading the fleet into the first ever Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Hong Kong. For the team owner, Seng Huang Lee, who has supported Scallywag sailing over the years, it’s a big moment.

“We’re a privately-owned team and our owner, Mr. Lee, has poured his passion and enthusiasm and vision into this project and this win will be very special for him. Winning this leg will be a massive platform for Scallywag going forward.“

It was the first time the Spanish team, MAPFRE, has finished off the podium in the 2017-18 edition and means that their overall lead is cut to four points after four legs.

Skipper Xabi Fernandez admitted that the result was far from ideal but pinpoints a bit of bad luck in the Doldrums as the key reason his crew finished down the rankings into Asia.

“It was very hard crossing the Equator,“ he said. “Everyone onboard has been through there a lot of times, but this was the hardest, and the slowest. It took a long time to get moving. Looking back, we’d do some things a bit differently and we might be in a different position. But there’s nothing you can do when a big cloud like that comes on top of you and the others move early. I wouldn’t blame bad luck, but of course it didn’t help us.“

MAPFRE has dominated the first few months of the 2017-18 race, but the emergence of other teams such as Scallywag and AkzoNobel shows that the win is still far from assured.

Following MAPFRE into Hong Kong was Team Brunel led by Bouwe Bekking and featuring a host of new crew who joined the yellow boat in Melbourne. That result leaves the Dutch campaign in fifth place overall. A disappointed Bekking admitted on the dock that a speed gap is frustrating his boat. “Everyone was a bit frustrated because up to the Solomans was a dream ride, and then the light air came,“ said Bekking. “You know it can happen on a leg like this, and this time we got bitten badly.“

MAPFRE recovered though by taking the win in the Around Hong Kong Island Race. MAPFRE had the best start in the fleet and eked out ahead in light winds. Three teams broke the line early and needed to restart with Team Brunel, Turn the Tide on Plastic and Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag all turning back.

It put them at an immediate disadvantage, but while Brunel had the best re-start, it was Turn the Tide on Plastic who moved up the fleet to challenge the leading pack over the next 20 minutes. However, as the race progressed, MAPFRE and Dongfeng Race Team found the new favorable wind first and built a commanding lead over the others. “With these inshore races you never know, because just as you can have the advantage one moment, the next you can lose it,“ said MAPFRE navigator Juan Vila. “Fortunately, today it was more of a race in which the one in front always seemed to have better pressure. The transitions have also gone a little better for us and of course, the start and the moments afterward were key.“

The results mean Dongfeng Race Team has the best overall score after two second place finishes. The team will claim a full 7 points from the Hong Kong series which pulls it into a tie on the overall leader board with MAPFRE, both sitting on 25 points. Dongfeng Race Team is ranked first based on winning the most recent series in Hong Kong.

The fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s will then depart in Leg 5 for Guangzhou for the next stopover in mainland China.


Tragedy Strikes Vesta 11th Hour Racing

A fatal collision occurred at the end of Leg 4 as the American-Danish boat Vestas 11th Hour Racing tragically struck a local fishing vessel at speed on their approach into the Port of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. It is perhaps one of the busiest stretches of water in the world which will generate more questions than answers as to what type of control did Volvo Race organizers exercise with Chinese authorities as the fleet approached the finish line at speeds of up to 30 knots with canting keels blazing.


Top Of Form

Americans, Mark Towill and Charlie Eright, co-skippers of Vestas released a statement about the incident that occurred in the early morning hours just as Hong Kong boat Scallywag crossed the finish line at Kai Tak Terminal to win the fourth leg from Melbourne.

One fisherman died and nine others were rescued after a collision between the 72-foot (with bowsprit) VOR 65 and a mainland fishing boat about 30 miles from the finish line.

According to VOR Race Control, the Vestas crew helped in search and rescue operations and pulled one man out of the water. The man was taken to hospital by helicopter but died hours later. The other nine fishermen were rescued by a nearby commercial vessel, according to Race Control.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with the families and all those affected by this tragic situation,“ said Towill, who also looks after the business side of Vestas operations.

Enright said, “Our hearts go out to everyone involved in this terrible incident. It has been difficult for the crew and the entire Vestas 11th Hour Racing team. We are grateful for the overwhelming support we’ve had during this very tough time.“

The identity of the fisherman who died is yet to be revealed.

Race Control said Vestas sent out a Mayday signal immediately after the accident and assisted Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in search and rescue operations.

None of the Vestas crew was injured in the collision. The boat, however, suffered a damaged hull and was able to reach Hong Kong using its own engine power. Vestas, who was second at the time, retired from race after a 6,000-mile journey from Melbourne.

Race Control had earlier said Vestas had at no time requested assistance, although another VOR boat, Team AkzoNobel, was sent to check on Vestas before completing its race.

Race Control was unable to say what caused the accident. It is also not known if the fishing boat had its navigation lights turned on or was using Automatic Identification System.

“We don’t have answers to those questions yet but of course those are central questions to the on-going investigation,“ Race Control said in the VOR website. “Both Vestas 11th Hour Racing and the Volvo Ocean Race will cooperate with the relevant authorities to establish what happened.“

Race Control added that it was not able to prevent the accident. “While Race Control does monitor the position of the race boats for safety reasons, Race Control does not have access to the position of every other vessel at sea,“ it said. “We offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones and family. We are relieved that the nine other mariners on board were rescued and initial reports have them in good condition.“

Phil Lawrence, Race Director for the Volvo Ocean Race, gives an update on the collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a non-racing vessel. “Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre informed Race Control that a nearby commercial vessel had rescued nine of the crew from the other boat and a tenth was taken to hospital by helicopter after he had been rescued from the water by the Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew,“ said Lawrence. “We’re deeply saddened to report that Hong Kong MRCC confirmed the death of that airlifted crewmember later Saturday morning. All Vestas 11th Hour Racing crewmembers are safe and uninjured, but the boat suffered some damage to its hull. After participating in the rescue, the team was able to return to port without assistance and under its own power despite the damage. At no time did Vestas 11th Hour Racing request assistance for themselves.“

Vestas 11th Hour Racing has informed Volvo Ocean Race that the team will not be participating in inshore racing in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China, as well as Leg 5 from Hong Kong to Guangzhou.

The team is currently coordinating necessary repairs to the boat caused by the collision with a non-racing vessel on Saturday 20 January. “First and foremost, our thoughts and condolences are with the families affected by this tragic incident,“ said Mark Towill from Hong Kong. “At this time, we are still assessing all of our options to return to the race.“ said Enright.

The other teams are now turning their attention to the short sprint leg up the China Coast and then to the long treacherous way down to Auckland New Zealand.

“The leg to Auckland is what I call a dangerous leg. We have to cross the Doldrums and we know it’s complicated and a bit random and we’re concerned about being the guys who catch a bad cloud this time,“ said Charles Caudrelier, skipper, Dongfeng Race Team.

“I don’t think winning Leg 4 will change how we sail. Maybe we’re a bit more confident,“ said David Witt of Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. “But you’re only as good as your last race so we’re about to get back to reality pretty quickly.“


Rolex Sydney To Hobart

The J.H. Illingworth Trophy looked set to be in the hands of Jim Cooney, who recently purchased Comanche dubbed the “aircraft carrier“ due to her girth. Boat and crew reveled in the strong north-easterly wind, but in the end, Wild Oats XI held her ground and showed her superiority in the extremely light breeze both boats found on rounding Tasman Island that at times stopped both yachts in their tracks.

Sport is often determined by fine margins and yachting is no exception. After a phenomenal contest between Jim Cooney’s LDV Comanche and the Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI over the full 628nm of the Rolex Sydney Hobart concluded in the Derwent River, the line honors title for first to finish was eventually decided in the protest room. An incident between the two 100-footers, shortly after the start, was adjudged in favor of LDV Comanche.

The initial provisional result was reversed to give Cooney a first line honors victory with his new boat in a record time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds, bettering by 4 hours 15 minutes, 56 seconds the previous benchmark set in 2016. 

In most sporting contests, there can only be one winner. In the battle to be first home in the 73rd Rolex Sydney Hobart, two highly-skilled, aggressively sailed yachts took the fight to each other from the very beginning to the very end. The result turned on a split-second decision taken as the yachts exited the Sydney Heads.

Undoubtedly, Cooney would have preferred to win the race on the water. All the same, he was in a celebratory mood as the enormity of his achievement sank in. “It was an exhilarating race. I loved every minute of it. The boat exceeded my expectations and who’d have thought we’d be turning the Hobart into an overnighter! The real race was on the water,“ Cooney continued. “The result is a fitting testament to the crew and the potential of the boat. The guys were fantastic. Stan Honey is not just a navigator, he is the navigator. Jimmy Spithill, too, is brilliant. Nothing escapes his attention anywhere on the water or around him.“

At the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia prior to the start of the race, LDV Comanche’s navigator Stan Honey worried that this race could be decided on the Derwent River. LDV Comanche had to be so far ahead of the lighter, leaner Wild Oats XI and Black Jack when she rounded the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent that they could not reel her back in when the wind went soft on the river, he thought. For their part the others had to hang on, stay in touch, and strike when LDV Comanche’s strength became her Achilles’ heel.

Honey, on his sixth Rolex Sydney Hobart and previously a line honors winner in 2015, had this to say, “The conditions suited Comanche, but it’s always a challenge in a 100-footer in that kind of wind to sail the boat in such a way that you don’t break stuff. We had a lot of very good sailors paying very careful attention and my decisions were geared to giving us the fastest passage.“

In the end, the race to be first home on the water came down to a single maneuver judged to have been mistimed. Yet to remember the line honors contest for this reason would be an injustice. This was yacht-racing in its purest form. Man and machine against the elements in all their guises.

LDV Comanche has been awarded Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honors after its protest Wild Oats XI was heard by the international jury late this afternoon.

International Jury Chairman, John Rountree said, “Wild Oats XI on port had to keep clear of LDV Comanche under Rule 10. Wild Oats XI failed to keep clear while tacking - Rule 13. LDV Comanche luffed to avoid a collision - Rule 14. Wild Oats XI did not comply with Sailing Instruction (S.I.) 20.1a to do a two-turn penalty for breaking the rule of part 2 occurring prior to clearing mark Zulu. The decision is in lieu of disqualification, penalized a time penalty of one hour to be added to her elapsed time in accordance with Sailing Instruction 20.1b and SI 22.1.“

Like Wild Oats XI, LDV Comanche finished inside last year’s record time, so the new record is one day, 9 hours 15 minutes 24 seconds. She finished 26 minutes behind Wild Oats XI, but the latter’s one-hour penalty means Comanche takes line honors by 34 minutes from Wild Oats XI.

After the hearing, Jim Cooney said, “I think it’s entirely fair and reasonable that the jury acted as they did. When you’re dealing with boats of this size and this caliber, we are at the elite level of our sport, and the boats must be conducted responsibly in fair respect of the conditions and the impact that your maneuvers might have.

Cooney explained the incident shortly after the start. “It was a port/starboard infringement. We were the right-of-way boat. They were the give way boat. We hailed starboard and they were the give-way boat and they left it until far too late to tack and they tacked right in our water. We had to take evasive action or possibly take both of us out of the race. We could have taken their backstay out. They could have broken our bowsprit. I felt very strongly that wasn’t the case,“ Cooney said. “The rules are there to protect the people and the boats and if we can’t rely on that it’s a difficulty in the sport.“

Cooney said the way they won the race has not taken any gloss off the sport. “The race is about how you conduct yourself and how your crew performs and how the boat performs. We feel we sail to the best of our abilities and (to win) justified our boat’s performance and the crew’s preparation.“

Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards and Sandy Oatley representing the Oatley family, were gracious in defeat. Richards said, “Obviously we’re very disappointed, but the international jury had a job to do. They saw the incident the way they saw it, we saw it a little bit differently, but the result is the result and we have to respect the decision of the jury.“

Sandy Oatley added, “We’d just like to congratulate Jim Cooney and his crew for their success and move forward.“

The Derwent River had long been predicted to be the critical point in the race. Whoever entered first would find any physical advantage threatened by the capricious nature of the river. Wild Oats XI and Comanche are opposites in hull form. One is a wraith-like bullet and the other all power and muscle. According to Mark Richards, the skipper of Wild Oats XI, “The one thing you don’t need in the Derwent is power.“

Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban has been confirmed as the overall winner of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart. With 28 races under his belt, this is the culmination of a quest to claim the top prize at one of the world’s most revered sporting occasions by one of Australia’s stalwarts of the sport of sailing.

Victory was celebrated at the dockside prize giving, where Allen and his crew received the coveted Rolex timepiece and Tattersall Cup as just reward for the persistence, courage and skill exhibited throughout the race. For Allen, the moment was not without emotion. A winner of the race back in 1983, as crew on Challenge II, this is his first taste of success as an owner and skipper. Allen has come close before, including last year when the Derwent arguably robbed him and his crew. “Winning this race is a dream for us all,“ said a grinning Allen, who detailed their preparations. “We built a fast TP52 hull, strengthening and waterproofing it for offshore racing and the rigorous conditions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. We took the rig from our old boat, incorporated the latest technology and combined it with the most amazing crew I have ever sailed with.“


Rowing With Lia Ditton

We ran a story last year on Lia Ditton’s valiant campaign to be the first woman to row across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco. Her hope at the time was to begin her adventure this year. She has been training here on San Francisco Bay over this past year. Her tutti-frutti multi-colored rainbow rowboat has been a familiar sight here as she prepared for her arduous journey which was going to take more than six months to complete.

We were sad to hear that the challenge had run into some sponsorship difficulties that led Ditton to suspend her dream to row, row her boat this year. She penned an articulate letter to her supporters which we will share, in her own words. We wish her luck as she reorganizes her campaign.

“Dear World, this isn’t easy for me to write. I am sorry to say that the YO! Row came to an end on 31 December 2017. What hasn’t ended is my intent to row the North Pacific. I own the boat. The training will continue. When I was in the boatyard taking off the YO! stickers last month, passers-by would say ‘Oh no! Did you lose your sponsor?’ I felt embarrassed and ashamed and it is those feelings that have delayed me from writing this.

I took a risk having the boat wrapped 100% in stripes with YO! We wanted to give the impression that the expedition was 100% going ahead. It also gave the impression that the project was fully sponsored, when it was not.

Ultimately that didn’t matter. What defeated me; and this was unforeseeable, was that the companies that entertained the idea of co-sponsoring, didn’t want to partner with a company based in another country.

When I finally realized this, I had another problem.

After the Discovery Channel filmed me in May, the producer shared a clip from the show “Survive This“ about Charlie Martell, who attempted to row the Pacific in 2012. Charlie and his boat were capsized in typhoon Mwar. The cabin face of Charlie’s boat was punched in when his boat was picked up by a wave and dropped upside down.

My boat is her sister ship.

Both Gerard d’Aboville and Emmanuel Coindre who successfully crossed in 1991 and 2005 respectively rowed carbon boats. Gerard capsized, not once but more than 30 times; Emmanuel more than 16 times. Gerard d’Aboville in his low-profile boat “Sector“ near the completion of his voyage.

Weight is another issue. The boat Gerard d’Aboville rowed in 1992, weighed 440 lbs. unloaded. My current boat weighs in at 800 lbs. is almost double. A heavier boat requires more physical effort to propel and the more time spent at sea, the higher the risk. I specifically said at the beginning of this project that I didn’t want to design and build a new boat.

I made a mistake. For the first year I trained in silence. I was afraid I wasn’t enough - strong enough, tough enough or accepting that I wasn’t these things then, that I couldn’t become them in training. I started blogging after I proved myself to myself, in the squall off Berkeley. After that I rowed 15 hours to Bolinas and back and then later down to Half Moon Bay. These were powerful confidence building experiences.

Two people have succeeded in rowing the North Pacific solo. Both were men. This is a journey to prove equality. The ocean is the final frontier for discovery and my mission is to explore what it is to be human, a woman and a pioneer. In doing so, I want to spark generations of role models.

I have experience of the ocean and the courage to row her. The hardest part for me isn’t the row, it’s now. Everything I do now affects my chance of success later. This the real expedition, I say; the row is the final exam.

Rowing from the Farallon’s is next and then 65 miles to, round and back from the Farallon’s, which will be entered for consideration as a new world record. My endeavor cannot end here. I have invested 2 years of time and money into this. My sights are set on rowing from Japan in April 2019 in a new design of boat.

For this, I need your help. To bridge the gap while I secure a new sponsor, I need donors. I call them my believers. We all need believers.

If you would like to join my special Believer’s Club, please get in touch. Be part of making history. A huge thank you to my believers; Bob Bransten, Jim Keller and my “Super Believer“ Marcy Pattinson.


Condolences And Respect

Last month we lost San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to a fatal heart attack. His sudden death was a shock. Lee had guided San Francisco through some turbulent times and laid a blueprint for a prosperous future.

During his tenure as mayor, SF thrived under the spotlight with the Giants winning the World Series in 2012 & 2014. The 49ers went to the NFC Championship 3 years in a row including a Super Bowl trip. A spectacular new arena (long overdue) is being built to bring the Warriors across the Bay to our waterfront and many legacy projects were finished giving Lee a generation worth of successes in just 7 short years.

Lee was a passionate, ardent supporter of the America’s Cup Races here. He inherited the event from his predecessor Gavin Newsome who left as Mayor to become California’s Lieutenant Governor leaving the keys to Lee to micro-manage the fine details and navigate the turbulent waters of a capricious, prickly City Hall which wasn’t always on the same page on the event.

The event here ended up as an unequivocal success starting from the moment the nearly 2 mile long train filled with all the ACWS platforms, parts and pieces pulled into the rail yard in Central Basin, to every race day as OTUSA, with skipper Jimmy Spithill ending up with a miraculous comeback to defend the America’s Cup here and with every prospect of bringing it back.

“Congratulations to the America’s Cup Event Authority and Race Management on this exciting moment for San Francisco and the America’s Cup team,“ said Lee at the time. “This is just the beginning of more than a year of thrilling world-class sailing on our Bay, attracting millions of visitors, generating thousands of jobs and having a dramatic economic impact on the Bay Area.“

With crowds estimated at more than a million people over the course of the America’s Cup summer for the event, highlighted by more than tens of thousands of people and dogs on the final day at America’s Cup Park in addition to hundreds of spectator boats on the Bay under the vigilant watch of the Coast Guard, plus a national TV audience, the results couldn’t have been more satisfying for race and city officials.

“The response from the public exceeded our expectations,“ said Stephen Barclay, CEO of the ACEA at the time. “This was our first event in San Francisco and our first opportunity to get a taste of racing wingsail catamarans on the Bay. It was simply wonderful for everyone involved.“

The excitement offshore was augmented by super-charged adrenaline on shore, as sponsor Red Bull gave the crowd “wings“ of their own by handing out thousands of cans of their energy drink and then dropped their aerial display team over the massive crowds on the Marina Green and America’s Cup Park.

Lee’s terms to return the event were very generous by proposing venue sites within the city that would be used to host the next America’s Cup in 2017. But, Larry Ellison took the event elsewhere.

“The 34th America’s Cup generated hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for San Francisco, created thousands of jobs and showcased our spectacular waterfront, the beauty of SF Bay and the sport of sailing to millions of spectators around the world,“ said Lee at the time. “Therefore, it is with great enthusiasm, guided by the lessons learned and practical experience of the 34th America’s Cup, that we propose the venue sites for the 35th America’s Cup in San Francisco in 2017.“

Lee’s passing was a tremendous loss. Supervisor London Breed was named interim mayor until she was backstabbed by other “progressive“ supervisors who saw her perceived incumbency as a threat to their own aspirations for mayor in June’s special election to fill the remainder of Lee’s second term.

Mark Farrell will now serve as Mayor until the election. He has said he will not run. Farrell was the Supervisor from the Marina District. His support of the America’s Cup was crucial in 2013 for what was a very successful event. But, Breed is our future and I wish her success going forward. She represents the best of what San Francisco can offer from her humble roots in the projects to her outspoken advocacy for the underprivileged since.

Ciao for now.

If you are bored drop a note to mark@yachts H

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