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A new exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the global circumnavigation by yacht by the late Commander Bill King opens in Galway City Museum this week.

A display of objects and memorabilia relating to his voyage, loaned by his family and involving Galway Bay Sailing Club support, will be exhibited at the museum.

Members of the King family will attend the event on Thursday, November 30th, when there will be a special showing of “King of the Waves'', a film written and directed by Luke Leslie.

There will also be reflections from his daughter Leonie King, son Tarka King and Johnny Shorten of GBSC.

The submarine commander and solo sailor was a lifelong honorary member of GBSC, and also hunted with the Galway Blazers.

His grandson and musician Cian Finn will premiere a very special song “Survive”, which he has composed especially for the occasion.

Read more about Bill KIng on Afloat here and listen to Leonie King's memories of her late father in a podcast here

Published in Bill King
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“There’s a Japanese man coming, it’s probably revenge..would you just go away, I’m old; I don’t mind dying “

“I came back three hours later and they were on their third bottle of white wine..”

That’s one of many memories Leonie King has of her father, the late Commander Bill King, when interviewed by Wavelengths for the 50th anniversary of his return from sailing around the world solo in Galway Blazer II.

A newspaper article about Bill King and his Plymouth return in 1973 featuring Anita (left) and LeonieA newspaper article about Bill King and his Plymouth return in 1973 featuring Anita (left) and Leonie

King speaks about how her father was declared missing during the latter part of his voyage, and she also recalls the impact the second world war had on him.

She also remembers how her father was sure he was going to be killed, after he had been contacted by the son of one of Japanese submarine 1-166 crew who died when King’s submarine Telemachus sank it in 1944.

Akira Tsurukame, whose father perished on board 1-166, and Katja Boonstra-Blom, whose father died when the 1-166 sank the Dutch submarine K XVI, visited Bill King in 2004.

Together, they planted a crab apple tree in the grounds in memory of his guests' fathers.

Leonie King at the Telemachus memorial treeLeonie King at the Telemachus memorial tree

As Afloat has reported here, Galway Bay Sailing Club’s commodore Johnny Shorten has worked with Leonie King on her father’s archive, and has a number of plans to ensure King, an “unsung hero”, is fully recognised.

Commander Bill King on his 100th birthday with his daughter Leonie (right) and grand-daughter Heather (left)Commander Bill King on his 100th birthday with his daughter Leonie (right) and grand-daughter Heather (left)

Listen to her interview on Wavelengths below

Published in Wavelength Podcast
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An exhibition this autumn marking the golden jubilee Commander Bill King’s solo sail around the world is one of a number of events planned by Galway Bay Sailing Club (GBSC) commodore Johnny Shorten to pay tribute to an “unsung hero”.

It is 50 years ago today, May 23rd, since King sailed into Plymouth in his junk-rigged schooner, Galway Blazer II, as recalled in accounts over the past five days on Afloat here.

 Bill King receives 'a little help from my friends to get moored' as a Royal Navy launch tows Galway Blazer II into Plymouth Harbour Photo Courtesy: King family archive Bill King receives 'a little help from my friends to get moored' as a Royal Navy launch tows Galway Blazer II into Plymouth Harbour Photo Courtesy: King family archive

King had been missing at sea for five months when he lost radio contact after leaving Australia, and a relayed telegram to his wife Anita and family in Oranmore, Galway, on May 13th was the first confirmation that he was alive.

Home at Last with Family (Anita and Leoine) Photo Courtesy: King family archiveHome at Last with Family (Anita and Leoine) Photo Courtesy: King family archive

Shorten, who has been working with Leonie King, the late commander’s daughter, on his log and other memorabilia for the Afloat reports, said that as commodore of GBSC, “it’s hard to ignore the profound legacy of Commander Bill King”.

Galway Bay Sailing Club Commodore Johnny ShortenGalway Bay Sailing Club Commodore, Johnny Shorten

“A lovely sketch of the great man hangs in our committee room, looking down across the table with a kind smile,” he says.

“ It is as if he were guiding us on from beyond the grave, a constant reminder of all of his extraordinary achievements. Sometimes, when tough decisions have to be made, we look and say “Well Bill, what would you have done?” in the hope that we might be enlightened,” he says.

“As you move outward from the committee room into the club facilities, towards the townlands of Oranmore, Galway and beyond, I have always had a sense that his memory and achievements fade with distance,” Shorten says.

“This was brought to my attention recently while doing an interview with our local radio station on sports in the general Oranmore area. When the principal of the local secondary school listed off with great delight all the sports that the school actively promotes, unfortunately, sailing was not on her list (and not for want of trying on behalf of the GBSC),” he says.

“When my turn came, I was quick to point out the considerable challenge of promoting sailing as a sport, ironic when the school is only 50 metres from the sea, and an even shorter distance from the home of one of Ireland’s and the world’s sailing greats,” he says.

“ One can’t help but think that our community fails to embrace the heritage that sits on its own doorstep,” he says, noting that he “may be soon summoned to the principal’s office for my comments, detention looms again!”

“In 2020, GBSC celebrated its 50th anniversary, and we had great plans to centre a lot of the events around Commander Bill King, with exhibitions and talks in the club, coupled with some educational programmes in the local schools to promote the club, sailing and Commander King,” he recalls.

“ Then came the cursed Covid, and the focus had to be on making sure the club made it to the 51st year and beyond,” he says.

“The idea of celebrating the legacy of Commander King had never left my mind, and we had tossed around some ideas of getting television and media coverage around the club, its thriving junior membership and its greatest member,” Shorten continues.

“ I was also acutely aware that there was a treasure trove of artefacts and documents associated with Commander King dispersed across various members of his family. There was also a shared vision among all concerned to bring this unique and historic collection into the public domain, such that his legacy would be preserved and available to future generations,” he says.

“Over the past months, I have attended many meetings with museums, universities and institutes on how best to mount an exhibition in this, the 50th anniversary of Commander King’s completion of his round-the-world adventure,” he explains.

Commander Bill King’s solo sail around the world

“ Many times, across different groups and individuals, a comparison between Tom Crean and Commander King has been made. While from different sides of the track, they both were unsung heroes who lived life to the full on their own terms and of their own choice. They both faced the prospect of death on many occasions, overcame extreme challenges and lived to tell the tale,” he says.

Commander Bill King’s solo sail around the world

“I hope that we can start that same process that brought Tom Crean in from the cold, applying those same learnings to promote and keep the Commander Bill King story alive,” he says.

“In the same heroic manner that Tom Crean sailed off for Elephant Island, Commander King hung by his toenails off the lifelines of Galway Blazer II for three days, attempting to patch a major hole in the hull with whatever bits and pieces he could find, while alternately bailing out the ever-rising water in order to stay afloat and more importantly, to stay alive,” Shorten recalls.

“These are the qualities that capture the imagination of children; that can-do attitude that anything is possible; it’s yours for the taking; never give up -qualities I feel that are sometimes lacking in today’s generation,” he says.

“Over the coming months, we will be embarking on an effort to ensure that the qualities, the legacy and the sense of adventure that made Commander King the legend that he is, endures,” Shorten says.

This plan includes:

  • Working with the King family to gather much of the artefacts and documents associated with Commander King;
  • The Marine Institute has made substantial progress in cataloguing the many documents they have received from the King family;
  • Scanning the recently received logs for 1970, 71, 72 and 73;
  • The Galway Museum will mount an exhibition in October to mark the 50th anniversary;
  • The Galway Museum will also start planning for a more permanent exhibition in their new extension, due 2025;
  • Possibility of the exhibition going on tour to other locations, nationally and internationally;
  • The national broadcaster, RTE, has committed to doing a Nationwide feature in September to be broadcast in October;
  • Creating the Commander King experience online at www.commanderbillking.com ;
  • Fundraising to support the above.

“The great hope is that in years to come, when we celebrate future milestones, his legacy will precede him and that a new generation will carry the torch, keeping the Commander Bill King story alive,” Shorten says.

“ Who knows, someday the town of Oranmore may erect a statue in his honour, a fitting tribute to this unsung hero…”

Published in Solo Sailing

“Light, backing -fluctuating” was how the late Commander Bill King described winds in the final frustrating days of his successful solo sail around the world half a century ago.

The log entry for his schooner Galway Blazer II, recorded in pencil for May 22nd, 1973, starts with a compass bearing of 70 degrees, with force three winds given as south-south-easterly and dropping.

The log entry for the schooner Galway Blazer II, recorded in pencil for May 22nd, 1973The log entry for the schooner Galway Blazer II, recorded in pencil for May 22nd, 1973

“At 0900, he notes the time zone change to British Standard Time,” Galway Bay Sailing Club commodore Johnny Shorten says.

“From midday, the winds become light, backing and fluctuating, eventually going southerly force three at midnight,” Shorten, who was provided with the log by King’s daughter, Leonie, in advance of the golden jubilee of the circumnavigation, observes.

The barometer was steady at 1014, and the total distance run was 57 nautical miles.

At this stage, the former submarine commander’s wife, author Anita Leslie, knew he was safe after a radio silence of five months after he had left Australia.

As Afloat reported yesterday, the family in Oranmore Castle, Galway, had received a telegram giving King’s position off the Bay of Biscay on May 13th, 1973 – the first communication from him since December 10th, 1972, six days after he had left Perth.

He had already made newspaper headlines, with shipping being asked to look out for the junk-rigged schooner.

It was not the first time King had been in newspapers, however. The decorated second world submarine commander had been the oldest participant in the Sunday Times Golden Globe round-world race in 1968.

The 1968 capsize off Capetown newspaper reportThe 1968 capsize off Capetown newspaper report

He was lying third in the race in the 42-ft Galway Blazer II when he was forced to pull out after a capsize off South Africa on October 31st, 1968.

Ahead of him at the time were Robin Knox-Johnston, then 29 years old in his 30ft ketch, Suhaili, and Frenchman Bernard Moitessier, aged 32, in Joshua.

Newspaper reports of this, which his family have given to the Marine Institute in Galway, include an interview King gave to Express journalist Michael Steemson - the Beaverbrook-owned newspaper group had been sponsoring him in the race.

The 1968 ashore at Capetown newspaper reportThe 1968 ashore at Capetown newspaper report

He told Steemsom by radio that the vessel rolled in the capsize while he was down below – he was within 30 seconds of going on deck and “would certainly have been swept away and drowned”, Steemsom noted later.

The schooner was dismasted, but King had mended his self-steering gear with a spare wind vane, and had hoisted his jury-rig mast.

“I regret I’ve given up my attempt to sail around the world this year, but I intend to try and get into Capetown,”King told him.

The journalist noted he sounded “tired, but not dispirited”.

In the same newspaper report of November 1968, the Express carried a comment from “Mrs King” – as in Anita Leslie - in Oranmore.

“I think it is the wise thing to do if his mast is gone,”she told the newspaper. “It’s very disappointing, but I don’t think he had any other option.”

“In a way, I am rather relieved,”she said. “No wife could be happy with the idea of her husband continuing in a race like that with a jury rig…”

The countdown continues in Afloat tomorrow…

Published in Solo Sailing

Ìmagine being just 50 nautical miles away from completing a third attempt in the best part of five years to sail around the world solo, and hoping for some wind.

That was the situation that the late Commander Bill King found himself all of 50 years ago today on board his junk-rigged schooner, Galway Blazer II, on May 21st 1973.

His log for that date records his position at 49 degrees 14N 7 degrees 29W at 2000, with 9540 nautical miles on the log (this last leg was from Australia). There had been absolutely no wind for several days.

He was roughly 50 nautical miles from Landsend and 125 nautical miles from Ushant (Ouessant), the Breton island at the south-western end of the English channel.

“He is becalmed from the earlier part of the morning, with winds beginning to pick up around 6am,” Galway Bay Sailing Club (GBSC) commodore Johnny Shorten, who has been analysing the log entry for May 21st, 1973, says.

Bill King's log book coverBill King's log book cover

“The barometer is starting to rise steadily from 1001 to 1013 over the next 24 hours,”he says.

“Winds begin to rise steadily from force two to force six from the south at 1700 hours,”Shorten notes, and total distance run is 76 nautical miles.

Bill King's log book entry for May 21 1973Bill King's log book entry for May 21 1973

The log of Commander Bill King’s third, and successful attempt to sail around the world has been made available by his daughter, Leonie King, on the eve of the golden jubilee of his circumnavigation.

Interestingly, the cover for the log shows that part of it related to 1970, and he writes that the first part was “rubbed out to make space for April May 1973”.

At this stage, King has been able to get a message back to give his position, having had radio difficulties after he left Australia in December, which meant he was effectively missing at sea for months.

His late wife Anita Leslie received a telegram relayed from Portishead Radio Station, Burnham on Sea, dated May 13th,1973 to Captain Coote, RN, Daily Express, Fleet Street, London. The Daily Express had reported on his exploits as the Beaverbrook-owned newspaper group had become a sponsor.

The telegram, which was costed per word, gave his position at 46 degrees 17N and 14 degrees 45W at 1400GMT on May 13th, and said, “Please send message affections Anita and inform West Australian newspaper successful passage Cape Horn”.

Bill King's telegram of May 13 1973Bill King's telegram of May 13 1973

It was the first communication from him since December 10th, 1972, six days after he left Perth, Australia, to resume his voyage.

His position, off the Bay of Biscay, was confirmed in a Lloyd’s Shipping Intelligence report for May 13th, 1973.

Lloyds May 13 1973 position reportLloyds May 13 1973 position report

The countdown to his voyage to Plymouth continues on Afloat tomorrow….

Published in Solo Sailing
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On this day half a century ago, solo sailor Commander Bill King was still becalmed on board Galway Blazer II in the final stages of his global circumnavigation.

This was his third – and first successful - attempt to sail around the world, and logs which have been released to mark the golden jubilee record that he had been “becalmed all night” on May 19th/20th,1973.

The barometer readings which he recorded in pencil (see log photo above) show a steady “1000” throughout the day.

“As night falls, the wind begins to slowly pick up,” Galway Bay Sailing Club (GBSC) commodore Johnny Shorten, who has analysed the logs, notes.

The wind backs force two to three from east-north-east to nor-nor-east, and total distance covered on May 20th is ten nautical miles.

King had been determined to complete the solo sail after the ordeal of the second world war when he was the only British Navy officer to be commander of a submarine throughout the entire conflict.

As he wrote afterwards, his world was defined “by the chart table, the periscope and the bridge, hardly daring to sleep, a most disagreeable place, smelling of diesel oil, chlorine and unwashed bodies…”

He had made his first circumnavigation attempt in 1968 as the oldest participant in The Sunday Times Golden Globe race, but capsized and was dismasted 500 miles west of Capetown, South Africa.

He made a second unsuccessful attempt in 1969. A further attempt in 1970 in the junk-rigged Galway Blazer II was interrupted by illness and hull damage, which forced him ashore in Australia.

He resumed his journey in December 1971, but a large sea creature, either a whale or shark, damaged his boat about 400 miles southwest of Freemantle. After three days carrying out emergency repairs at sea, which have been praised as a lesson in sea survival, he returned to Freemantle, "barely able to limp into port".

After he completed his circumnavigation in 1973, he was awarded the Cruising Club of America Blue Water Medal two years later.

The Golden Jubilee of Galway Blazer II's epic voyage will be marked in Galway on May 23rd, 2023, and also by the International Junk Rig Association.

Published in Solo Sailing

“Atlantic alert for yachtsman”, read the headline in the Daily Express 50 years ago.

The missing yachtsman was the late Commander Bill King of Galway, then 62 years old and on his latest attempt to sail around the world solo on his junk-rigged schooner, Galway Blazer II.

As the Express reported on May 18th 1973, ships in the South Atlantic had been asked to keep a lookout for the sailor, last heard of four months before.

“He would be horrified if he knew I had done this,” his wife and author, Anita Leslie, told the newspaper.

“He told me before he left Australia that I was not to worry if he did not make contact,” she said.

Commander King had sailed from Perth on December 4th, 1972 on his specially designed junk rig yacht, and his last radio contact was six days later when he said he was “very well”.

The former submarine commander had made his first attempt in 1968 to sail around the world, but capsized and lost his mast 500 miles west of Capetown, South Africa.

The Golden Jubilee of Galway Blazer II's successful circumnavigation will be marked in Galway on May 23rd, 2023, and at this year’s annual general meeting of the International Junk Rig Association.

His ship’s logs have also been made available by his daughter, Leonie King, and the anniversary committee are releasing them over the next few days in a countdown to the 50th anniversary.

Published in Solo Sailing

Following this week's Mariners Memorial gathering on Monday at Galway Bay Sailing Club, which featured - among other significant west coast maritime memorabilia - some key items relating to the area's own global-circumnavigating Bill King of Galway Blazer II fame, the word is that the Golden Jubilee of Galway Blazer II's voyage round the world on May 23rd 2023 will be appropriately marked in Galway, and at the 2023 Annual General Meeting of the international Junk Rig Association.

Galway Blazer II's junk schooner rig, developed with much input from junk pioneer Blondie Hasler, provided exceptional ease of handling without the crew having to go on deckGalway Blazer II's junk schooner rig, developed with much input from junk pioneer Blondie Hasler, provided exceptional ease of handling without the crew having to go on deck

At the time of her construction in 1968, traditionalists felt that the 42ft Angus Primrose-designed Galway Blazer II would prove excessively skittish for steering in ocean conditions. But in fact she was a joy to helm, unlike Francis Chichester's longer-keeled Gypsy Moth IV, which Primrose had been pressurised into shaping with an unnecessarily long keel with a closed-hull integral rudder underwater profile that - combined with the boat's lack of stiffness - provided for a very bad-tempered sailing experienceAt the time of her construction in 1963, traditionalists felt that the 42ft Angus Primrose-designed Galway Blazer II would prove excessively skittish for steering in ocean conditions. But in fact she was a joy to helm, unlike Francis Chichester's longer-keeled Gypsy Moth IV, which Primrose had been pressurised into shaping with an unnecessarily long keel with a closed-hull integral rudder underwater profile that - combined with the boat's lack of stiffness - provided for a very bad-tempered sailing experience

Galway Blazer's remarkable voyage south of the Great Capes was honoured in many ways, not least in an award of the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America. This rare achievement meant that in due course, for some very special years, Ireland was home to four Blue Water Medallists - Bill King of Galway, John Gore-Grimes of Howth, Paddy Barry of Dun Laoghaire & Connemara, and Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo.

As for Bill King's astonishing and rather wonderful Galway Blazer II, some aspects of her concept continue to be ahead of the times, and in her day, she was an exceptionally complete creation in every way.

Three of Ireland's four Blue Water Medallists gathered together at an Irish Cruising Club lunch in Howth YC are (left to right) Paddy Barry, Bill King, and John Gore-GrimesThree of Ireland's four Blue Water Medallists gathered together at an Irish Cruising Club lunch in Howth YC are (left to right) Paddy Barry, Bill King, and John Gore-Grimes

Published in Galway Harbour
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Global circumnavigator Bill King of Oranmore Castle in Galway had lived to be 102 when he died – still very fit – in 2012. Yet he’d led such an extraordinary life of adventure and danger ashore and afloat and under the sea that he used up the lifetime quota of a dozen cats. But throughout it all he remained the most unassuming and modest of men, always interested in fresh ideas and curious about everything around him. Because he’d been associated with the Royal Navy as its longest-serving active wartime submarine commander, they tend to claim him as one of their own the other see of the Irish Sea. But the fact that he always wore an Aran jersey, called his unique pioneering boat Galway Blazer, and cheerfully flew the Irish tricolour at regular intervals, tells us much about his ability to embrace several cultures and identities.

As for his surname of King - which is notably common in Galway and Connemara - he’d happily tell you that it dated back a thousand years and more, when a slightly troublesome branch of the family of Charlemagne, the Emperor of much of Europe in the mistakenly-named Dark Ages, found it prudent to settle in the West of Ireland. However, it was too complicated to explain to their new neighbours the full back-story to Charlemagne. So they simply told everyone their name was King……

With Bill King, all things were possible, and this video gets the flavour of him very well indeed.

Published in Offshore
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The current Vendee Globe Race non-stop round the world is deservedly attracting enough attention without having to make over-stated claims on behalf of some of its participants writes W M Nixon.

The official website is today carrying a story that if Enda O’Coineen can succeed in his plan of sailing his dismasted IMOCA 60 Kilcullen Voyager from Dunedin at the south end of New Zealand under jury rig to Auckland 800 miles away to the north, where a loaned replacement masts awaits, then if he can continue the voyage back to les Sables d’Olonne round Cape Horn he will become the first Irishman to sail solo round the world.

Not so. Noted Dublin marine artist Pete Hogan, who sailed solo round the world in his gaff ketch Molly B, said today that the number of misapprehensions about who was first doing what in the Irish circumnavigation stakes is astonishing.

For instance, when he rounded Cape Horn in the 1990s, he was acclaimed as the first Irishman to do it alone, for of course Conor O’Brien had done it with the crewed Saoirse in 1925. Yet Pete Hogan found it very difficult to get anyone to listen when he subsequently tried to set the record by saying that Bill King of Galway with the junk-rigged ketch Galway Blazer was the first solo, and that was way back in 1973.

The fact that Bill King was a distinguished former British submarine commander may have projected the image of being non-Irish. But in fact he flew both the Irish tricolour and the
British red ensign, and his home was Oranmore Castle at the head of Galway Bay.

irish solo2Bill King’s purpose-designed Galway Blazer circumnavigated the world solo south of the great Capes in 1973.

Since then, other Irish sailors who have striven to circumnavigate include Declan Mackell, originally from Portaferry but Canadian-based by the time he undertook his voyage in a Contessa 32, with which he returned home to Ireland for a prolonged stay during his circuit.

Another lone circumnavigator, Pat Lawless of Limerick who completed his voyage with a Seadog ketch in 1996 at the age of 70, had hoped to take in Cape Horn, but rigging damage forced him into a Chilean port, and eventually he returned to Ireland via the Panama Canal. But his circuit was definitely completed, and completed alone.

And Pete Hogan believes there may be one or two other Irish lone circumnavigators who have done it without fanfare. For not everyone seeks the kind of publicity which the Vendee Globe inevitably provides.

Pat Lawless solo sailorLimerick circumnavigator – the irrepressible Pat Lawless aboard his world-girdling Seadog ketch

Published in Vendee Globe
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RORC's Caribbean 600 Race

The 14th edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 will start from Antigua on Tuesday, 14th February 2023.

The 600nm course circumnavigates 11 Caribbean Islands starting from Fort Charlotte, English Harbour, Antigua and heads north as far as St Martin and south to Guadeloupe taking in Barbuda, Nevis, St Kitts, Saba and St Barth's

PAST WINNERS: RORC CARIBBEAN 600 TROPHY - IRC OVERALL: (Best corrected time under IRC)

2020 - Tilmar Hansen, Outsider, TP52 (GER)
2019 - David and Peter Askew, Wizard, Volvo 70 (USA)
2018 - George David, Rambler 88, Maxi (USA)
2017 - Hap Fauth, Bella Mente, JV72 (USA)
2016 - George Sakellaris, Maxi 72, Proteus (USA)
2015 - Hap Fauth, JV72, Bella Mente (USA)
2014 - George Sakellaris, RP72, Shockwave (USA)
2013 - Ron O'Hanley, Privateer, Cookson 50 (USA)
2012 - Niklas Zennström's JV72, Rán (GBR)
2011 - George David, Rambler 100, JK 100 (USA)
2010 - Karl C L Kwok, Beau Geste, Farr 80 (HKG)
2009 - Adrian Lee, Lee Overlay Partners, Cookson 50 (IRL)

RACE RECORDS:

Multihull record (2019): Giovanni Soldini, Maserati, Multi 70 (ITA) - 30 hours, 49 minutes, 00 seconds
(I day 6 hrs 49 mins 0 secs)

Monohull record (2018): George David, Rambler 88, Maxi (USA) - 37 hours, 41 minutes, 45 seconds
(1 day 13 hrs 41 mins 45 secs)

At a Glance - RORC Caribbean 600 2024

The 15th anniversary edition of the RORC Caribbean 600 starts in Antigua on 19th February 2024.

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