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Displaying items by tag: Snipe sailing

Snipes, the feathered sort, inhabit wetlands and lakes but in Ireland the breed is on the Red List, meaning it is of high conservation concern. Snipe dinghies (the wooden version) were common in Northern Ireland from the 1930s till the 60s but could have been put on a Red List after that, as their numbers suffered a marked decline. But I'm told that Fermanagh supports a breeding population as well as an over-wintering population of the feathered variety, and if you listen, you can hear their distinctive drumming and chipping.

Now, if Fred Ternan of Lough Erne Heritage has anything to do with it, the chipping might well come from his workshop where he and his brother George are restoring a Snipe of the wooden variety, and it should grace Lough Erne again this summer. 

Fred (right) and George Ternan credit John McVitty/Impartial Reporter   Fred (right) and George Ternan credit John McVitty/Impartial Reporter  

Fred's commitment to re-introduce Snipes began when he found two sad-looking very old Snipe class dinghies, Ranger and Teal, in the boathouse on the Crom Estate in County Fermanagh, and Mallard in another building. It sparked a hunt for information about others in Northern Ireland, which proved that Snipe sailing was widespread. Not only that but he was inspired to restore the 'Crom Three'. Ranger, Teal and Mallard. Fred said, "Since there now appear to be at least three Snipes in existence with the possibility of one or two stored elsewhere I began to think of possible restoration, re-use and re-establishment of the fleet".

Ranger (left) and Teal just out of the boathouse courtesy Brian OsborneRanger (left) and Teal just out of the boathouse courtesy Brian Osborne 

It soon became clear to me that a considerable amount of information was out there, both in written and printed form and invaluable spoken memories. Hopefully, readers will be able to add more. And no doubt the Public Record Office in Belfast (PRONI) has more but there is no access right now.

Another one of the original Snipes, Valkyria, is in storage in Enniskillen, evidence that boats from Belfast Lough ended up in Lough Erne, as she was owned by an E Cowan of Holywood and Ranger was from Carrickfergus. Snipes were present on Belfast Lough, Strangford Lough, and bizarrely on tiny Lough Eskragh near Dungannon.

The Crom Estate lies on the east shore of Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. Originally the family home of Henry Crichton, the 6th Earl of Erne it was given to the National Trust in 1987.

Upper Lough Erne courtesy Mapcarta   Upper Lough Erne courtesy Mapcarta  

 Crom Castle courtesy WikipediaCrom Castle courtesy Wikipedia

The Snipe was designed by Bill Crosby, an American naval architect. He took over as Editor of The Rudder magazine in 1928. The Rudder often featured boat designs by Crosby, but the most popular design was the Snipe one-design racing sailboat, published in the July 1931 issue.

Plans of the Snipe courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC   Plans of the Snipe dinghy courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC  

It was designed as a two-person, two sail 15-foot 6-inch hard chine hull for easy home building, with 100 square feet of sail which was increased to 116 square feet with the introduction in 1932 of the overlapping jib which replaced the working jib. Now the sail area is 128 square feet. The early Snipes were of wood plank construction but are now mostly fibreglass. But plank and plywood are still used.
The early boats had a galvanised steel centreplate which pivoted on a bolt at the front bottom corner of the centre plate box. The early masts were of wood and had diamond stays.

Snipe plans courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC   Snipe plans courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC  

 Alec Kirkpatrick's Snipe Melody at Carrickfergus courtesy Trevor KirkpatrickAlec Kirkpatrick's Snipe Melody at Carrickfergus courtesy Trevor Kirkpatrick

Such is its evolvement into a modern racing dinghy with worldwide fleets, that it is the two-person dinghy chosen for the Pan Am Santiago, Chile Games in 2023. Over 31,000 Snipes have been built since the 1930s. Such is the popularity of the Snipe, some of the world's most famous sailors have enjoyed success in the class. Legendary Danish yachtsman and four times Olympic gold medallist, Paul Elvstrom, won Gold in the 1959 World Championships.

Snipes on Belfast Lough

Belfast Lough credit Navionics   Belfast Lough credit Navionics   

According to Ballyholme Yacht Club archives, there were considerable numbers of Snipes sailing and racing from the 30s till the late 50s in Belfast Lough and Strangford Lough. The boats were generally on swinging moorings. In 1937, the Ballyholme Snipes first appeared as a class at the Coronation Regatta at Royal Ulster YC, although two or three had raced in 1936. In 1938 Ballyholme YC Ladies Race and the Menagerie Race (13th July) used Snipes.

In the 1937 BYC Fixture card, there were seven, six the following year and seven in 1939.

And proof that some from Strangford Lough travelled to Ballyholme is the fact that in the 1939 Regatta programme it says BYC and SLYC Snipe Class (for which the Ist Prize was £1- £67 today!) Sadly, apart from Fixture Cards, BYC Regatta programmes and mentions in Eric and Barbara Mayne's History of the First Fifty years, there is a scarcity of information and photographs.

1939 BYC Regatta Programme   1939 BYC Regatta Programme  

An event which drew a fleet of 26 Snipes including visiting boats from Carrickfergus and Holywood as well as Strangford Lough, was the July 1951 Festival of Britain Regatta Week in which all the Belfast Lough clubs took part.

Evidence of a growing fleet at Carrickfergus lists 11 in the 1945 Ballyholme Regatta programme and many of the names will be remembered still -J. McGookin, W Matthews, W. Boal and B Purcell (do I recall he went on to GPs?). 1956 records show a bigger spread in the Lough with among the 19 listed, seven from another Carrickfergus club, the Barn Motor & Sailing Club. Although in a list given to me by Karen Fitzsimmons from CSC, there are 21. Among the names are A Selig (Seven Seas) and I Selig (Red Herring).

 1956 BYC Regatta programme

The 21 were handwritten (accompanied by a note written on the back of an envelope by William Curry about Wavelength which said " Wavelength no 605 was built in the Belfast Shipyard for a 'Doctor in Strangford' who went to the Clyde and won the British Snipe Class and was in second place the following year in Strangford. William, now 88, told me that he himself owned Wavelength. In SLYC 1939 racing results, the owner of Wavelength is D A Dorman and I assume he was the Doctor.

William Curry's note about Wavelength on the envelope courtesy William Curry   William Curry's note about Wavelength on the envelope courtesy William Curry  

Peter Ronaldson from Ballyholme remembers the BM & SC; "It existed in Carrickfergus in the mid-fifties for a few years. I suspect as a breakaway from CSC to cater for mainly motorboat members. It had a floating "clubhouse" in the harbour in an old houseboat which I think eventually sank! If I remember correctly, they were members of the Belfast Lough Conference and held a regatta for a few years before they disappeared".

Joe Campbell from Holywood Yacht Club on the south side of the Lough has records in which that fleet went from seven in 1948 to 12 in 1950. The HYC full list shows 17. In 1954 the Army Sailing School (there were nearby Barracks) bought three new boats and their swinging moorings were within sight of the HQ. In 1956 the ASA bought Firefly from Desi Magowan.

Snipe Class at Holywood courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC   

Snipe Class records at Holywood courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC   Snipe Class records at Holywood courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC  

 Holywood Snipe Class Charter courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC   Holywood Snipe Class Charter courtesy Joe Campbell Holywood YC  

By 1958 the fleet was down to only three boats as the new-fangled GP 14 with its spinnaker became popular in Belfast Lough and Snipe sailors tended to migrate to them. Except for Firefly and Mavoureen (W McCall and then T Bell) which was bought from Whiterock, all the boats were built locally by the original owners in various sheds around Holywood. They were moored out for the season.

Joe remembers "Well known original owners included Leslie and his brother Gordon Morrison, the Magee brothers (local joiners) and Dennis Harpur who with Billy McCall (who had owned Mavourneen) sailed Dennis's Snipe "Dragondra" to Portpatrick, having camped overnight on the Copelands! After a few days camping, they returned. The journey took eight hours each way". And Joe now believes that Dennis Harper also sailed to the Isle of Man in Dracondra with the same crew!

Bobby Graham, who says he is 85 years young, has vivid memories of the Snipes at Holywood. He remembers " They didn't last long at - only between 1949 and 1960 - because they tended to capsize on their moorings as with little freeboard any chop at all meant they filled up and the tall Bermudian mast made it worse. As a teenager, I used to go out when the tide was out and right them".

Some were built in Holywood - Ulidia and Joybell by Fred Steen, behind his pub on the Kinnegar (now the Dirty Duck Alehouse) for Ronnie Cowan and Cecil Forster. Setanta and Innis Fail were self-built in Marine Parade by brothers Harry and Jimmy Magee who were skilled joiners and worked mainly as shopfitters. "They were really great boats," said Bobby," beautifully made and sailed well. Jimmy and Harry were new to sailing but won regularly.

 Steen's pub (with sign) behind which Ulidia and Joybell were built. courtesy Norma Cooper   Steen's pub (with sign) behind which Ulidia and Joybell were built. courtesy Norma Cooper  

Fred Steen (centre) courtesy Norma CooperFred Steen (centre) courtesy Norma Cooper

Other self-built Snipes in Holywood were Queen Bee which Colin McDonald's father built for him, Dracondra (Denis Harper) and Euraquilo, said to have been built in the shipyard in Belfast for Gordon and Leslie Morrison.

On Strangford Lough

Strangford Lough credit NavionicsStrangford Lough credit Navionics

The emergence of Snipes on Strangford Lough is well documented by the late Margaret Green of Strangford Lough Yacht Club at Whiterock on the west side of the Lough. Whiterock Yacht Club existed alongside the Snipe Sailing Club.

Margaret writes "In 1933 we became interested in a new American class, the Snipe. When sailing started at Whiterock a group of us laid plans for a Snipe Sailing Club. This was to be built beside the large white rock which had given the Bay its name. We planned the club at a series of after work meetings in the Globe and Textile restaurant in Donegall Square South. It is strange to think that the current club had its beginnings over poached eggs and tea at the Globe".

Snipe Sailing Club in Whiterock Bay courtesy James Nixon   Snipe Sailing Club in Whiterock Bay courtesy James Nixon  

In 1934 the Snipe Sailing Club opened in a small clubhouse which burnt down after two years. By now there was a large fleet of highly competitive Snipes. And by 1935 the Snipes were moored in Whiterock Bay. The Greens had Will O' the Wisp, Philip Bell sailed Red Herring, Seven Seas belonged to Tom Black and Chris and Felix Gotto sailed Black Gauntlet and Wavelength (built in the Belfast Shipyard).

Ronnie Green was Snipe District Secretary in 1939. The Gottos were from a well to do Co Antrim family and Felix became a well-known artist.

Invitation to the Snipe Class Championship in 1937 designed by Philip Bell. Courtesy Adrian Bell   Invitation to the Snipe Class Championship in 1937 designed by Philip Bell. Courtesy Adrian Bell  

Adrian and Maeve Bell told me about Adrian's father's involvement "In 1936, he designed the replacement clubhouse which opened on 26th June 1937. The opening took place during the International Snipe Class Championships, a major event to be hosted by such a young club and in effect was considered to be a World championship. Philip Bell designed the invitation to the Championships. With the opening of the new clubhouse came the change to the present name, Strangford Lough Yacht Club".

Strangford Lough YC original clubhouse designed by Philip Bell courtesy James Nixon   Strangford Lough YC original clubhouse designed by Philip Bell courtesy James Nixon  

Will o' the Wisp at the SLYC opening 1939 courtesy James Nixon   Will o' the Wisp at the SLYC opening 1939 courtesy James Nixon  

Snipes based at Whiterock also sailed at other places on Strangford Lough, such as Ringhaddy, a short distance away and at Kircubbin across the Lough.

Snipes at Ringhaddy circa 1930s Courtesy James NixonSnipes at Ringhaddy circa 1930s Courtesy James Nixon

On Lough Erne

Lough Erne has an enviable documented history of Snipes, entirely due to Johnny Madden of Hilton Park in Clones, Co Monaghan, who was much involved as his father, Major Madden introduced Snipes to Lough Erne around 1953 when he bought Teal. He sourced Snipes which had stopped racing in Belfast Lough and arranged for various people to take ownership and began racing in 1954. And it seems that Snipes raced regularly at Crom for approximately 15 years.

Snipes at Crom courtesy Brian Osborne   Snipes at Crom courtesy Brian Osborne  

Johnny Madden's great, great, grandfather, Colonel Madden (NYC) owned the 69-ton cutter Ganymede which he raced in Dublin Bay. It could be said that apart from those sailors east of the River Bann who sold boats to the Erne, others knew little of the plethora of sailing on the Lough. Fred learned that there was Snipe sailing at Crom until 1969 when the 'Troubles' brought it to an end. He was advised to contact Johnny Madden about the three boats at Crom and Johnny gave him the boats, sails and story.

Johnny Madden credit BBC News NIJohnny Madden credit BBC News NI

Major Madden, Johnny Madden's father sailing Valkyria courtesy Madden family   Major Madden, Johnny Madden's father sailing Valkyria courtesy Madden family  

The owners then were Lord Erne of Crom Castle who had Jenny Wren and Moonbeam, Major Madden had Teal and Mallard, the latter having been owned by Phyllis Richardson, an Olympic sailor, who raced the International 14 Snark in the 1928 POW Cup. Other owners were Commander Crichton, (Chop) and Johnny Madden and Robin Hanbury-Tennison, (the explorer who grew up in Co Monaghan) who had Ranger;

The late Lord Erne credit BBC News NI   The late Lord Erne credit BBC News NI  

Lord Rossmore, from Co. Monaghan owned Linda; David Corbett had Will 'o the Wisp and Valkyria, Johnny Lucas Clements who is thought to have bought Valkyria from Corbett and Lord Belmore of Castle Coole also owned a Snipe.

The late Lord Belmore of Castle Coole copyright Lord BelmoreThe late Lord Belmore of Castle Coole copyright Lord Belmore

Johnny remembers; "Lord Erne of Crom Castle bought Jenny Wren a year or so after Major Madden bought Teal. Mallard and Moonbeam were added within the next year or so as I think my father found sailing solo rather dull. Certainly, we had been sailing at least four years before Ranger (originally in Belfast Lough) appeared on the scene in 1956. My father was invalided out of the Irish Guards, and looked at activities he could now do and this is where sailing came in. I suspect his friend Mungo Park who raced in Dublin Bay 24 Footers encouraged him towards sailing".

It seems like David Corbett who belonged to the 'Crom Set' was the source of most of the additions to the fleet as he was well connected to Co. Down and Strangford sailing circles. Johnny recalls a normal day's sailing. "Down Trial Bay, where Lord Erne placed a buoy at the far end each season, or round Inish Rath. Those were our two racing courses.

Occasionally when there were only a couple of boats out, we would sail in the West Bay past the Gad, but there was some underwater obstruction in the middle of the bay, which we seemed to hit on each occasion that deterred us somewhat. Sailing from Crom, with its magical boathouse where we took a picnic tea after sailing, was an extraordinary privilege, in those beautiful surroundings on that wonderful lake. Unforgettable".

Crichton Tower on Gad Island credit National Trust   Crichton Tower on Gad Island credit National Trust  

On a reflective note, Johnny wonders if any of this would have happened 15 years further on. The Snipe was owned fairly equally between people from either side of the border. Come the 1970s, the only crossings were via army checkpoints, which increasingly inhibited border crossings for social purposes. Physical barriers eventually become mental barriers and attitudes and loyalties diverged.

The original Lough Erne Yacht Club was formed at Crom in 1827 (the boats in the Crom boathouse had the letters LEYC on their transoms) and for which the boathouse was built in the 1840s as a purpose-built clubhouse. The club called Lough Erne Yacht Club formed on the Lower Lough was quite different. None of the Crom people were ever actively involved in that Club.

Ranger with LEYC on the stern – first time out of shed since 1960s courtesy Brian Osborne   Ranger with LEYC on the stern – first time out of shed since 1960s courtesy Brian Osborne  

Many people believe that all sailing at Crom ceased at the beginning of WW1. Sailing did stop during both World Wars, and in 1954 Johnny Madden's father, Major Madden introduced the Snipe class to the remaining families around the Lough, especially the Upper Lough and in Cavan and Monaghan. They raced competitively between 1954 until 1969.

Half a century ago, the waters of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh were the weekend playground of the well-to-do. Their craft of choice was the Snipe. It is a time Johnny Madden remembers fondly. "At the time that we started having Snipes on Lough Erne and it was the biggest sailing boat class in the world," he said. "They're very suitable for Lough Erne, because they had a good solid build so you could run them up on the stony shore and they had centre boards rather than keels, and Lough Erne, particularly the Upper lake, being quite shallow, that was very good."

The Snipe Class were kept on moorings off the boathouse and generally raced in Trial Bay. Later some were pulled into the shore. Many friends of the owners joined in the regular racing from the Clubhouse in the 50s and 60s and it was a great social occasion every week.

 On moorings at Crom, Valkyria in foreground with Ranger centre courtesy Johnny Madden   On moorings at Crom, Valkyria in foreground with Ranger centre courtesy Johnny Madden  

After the racing ceased some of the boats changed hands and their whereabouts now is not known. Fred has his three stored with conservation ongoing on Ranger which was, in 1953, in Ballyholme Regatta programme, owned by a J Morrison.

Having been concerned that the rescued Crom dinghies may suffer vandalism, it was decided to move them directly to Gabriel Fitzpatrick`s farm where, if necessary, restoration could commence. The big day for the move was Tuesday, 28th March 2017.

Lord Erne had the keys to the upstairs of the boathouse and stored in the roof beams were the masts and booms of the Snipes.

Snipe rudders stored at Hilton had already been given to Lough Erne Heritage and some items from the days of `big boat' sailing at Crom were found on moving the dinghies and in agreement with Lord Erne these are now in the safekeeping of Lough Erne Heritage. The dinghies have not been on the water since all Snipe racing came to an end in the late '60s, a period of approximately 50 years

Snipes at Portora Royal School Enniskillen

Wiclif McCready owner of the Chandlery in Holywood before retiring, remembers that as a student at Portora Royal School (now amalgamated with Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar) there was an active sailing club. "One of the club owned boats was a Snipe. Sail number around 20 I think. There was just the one Snipe and six Cadet dinghies owned by the club. They had a tendency to nosedive which would have contributed to their demise (no buoyancy, obviously.) I don't remember much about the Snipe other than it was kept in the water during the summer term and used to leak copiously when heeled over. I don't remember it sinking when tied up, although it did need to be baled before use. Perhaps another reason I was less keen on it!". He continues "Obviously with just one Snipe, any racing was done in the Cadets. I suppose the Snipe was used more for people who were less confident in taking out the Cadets".

Snipe at Portora Royal School courtesy Wiclif McCready   Snipe at Portora Royal School courtesy Wiclif McCready  

Another former student Roland Eadie also recollects Snipe sailing at Portora. He attended Gloucester House and Portora Royal School as a boarder between 1953-62 and at Portora he joined the Sailing Club which was run then by the Rev. Terence Benson - an enthusiastic, inspirational - and for the boys - popular staff member. He remembers " the modest Sailing Club, which shared the lakeshore and access to Lough Erne with the Portora Rowing Club, had two yachts then, a Cadet dinghy and the Snipe. My initial basic sailing training was in the Cadet, which was rightly regarded as a safe boat for beginners".

Roland's initial instruction in the Cadet was by the Rev Benson and this fired his interest in sailing.

"Once past the initial training stage with him, I was allowed to sail with other boys in the Club who were competent sailors. I recollect my initial move upwards then to the Snipe was to the tutelage of a fellow pupil Tony Shackleton, a relation of the great explorer".

In those days, the Club was restricted by the Barrage at Portora in the early 1950s, confining its activity to the area from the West Bridge down to the Barrage at the Portora Castle ruin. Later the club moved to the former School Swimming Pool in which they formed a harbour below the Barrage. That opened a much greater scope and opportunities for sailing on Lower Lough Erne.

Roland recalls "My recollection is that the Cadet was manoeuvrable and very responsive: in the Snipe one moved upwards to something more solid, grand and sedate, but they were both enjoyable craft in which to learn and to sail".
On Eskragh Lough Co Tyrone

Snipe on Eskragh Lough c 1958 courtesy Paul Bryans (sitting on foredeck)Snipe on Eskragh Lough c 1958 courtesy Paul Bryans (sitting on foredeck)

The little lough at Eskragh near Dungannon is the last place you would expect to find Snipe sailing. But Paul Bryans, an ex-Ballyholme member learned to sail in a Snipe in that very place, now known for its fishing. "My father was manager of the Trustee Savings Bank branch in Dungannon and being a keen sailor decided to set up a sailing club on Eskragh Lough (which provided the water for one of the linen mills, so motors were banned) with three Snipes". He thinks about 1958. Paul continues: "The boats were pre-war and very heavy, virtually sinking if capsized and the sails were cotton, of course.

I think the three Snipes were owned by the Club. Because they couldn't use a motor on Eskragh they were going to move to another lough, but I think there was an accident and somebody drowned following which the club was closed. My memory is that there was a fatality at Eskragh due to somebody sailing on their own or at least without somebody able to row to their assistance. The Snipes probably came from Carrick and possibly went back there, which may have caused the confusion about where the fatality happened"

Restoration continues

Ranger, currently being restored has had the keel and two garboards replaced. The centreplate bolt has been removed and replaced with stainless steel with the wood in that area being replaced also. The pintle and gudgeon have been removed and replaced after that area of the transom has been strengthened. The deck planking was removed and will be re-used after most of the deck beams have been replaced. The mast, boom, rudder, and original sails are still in good condition. Work ceased for a time due to social distancing rules. Painting is now in progress. Fred says Ranger will be yellow, the original colour.

Work on Ranger. Centre plate fitted etc credit Fred TernanWork on Ranger. Centre plate fitted etc credit Fred Ternan

For the techies, Fred has information about a Bumkin which I understand is a short boom, frequently V-shaped, extending from the stern, to which the backstay or mizzen sheet block is attached.
He says "John Rose from the States told me that some of the early Snipes had a Bumkin to which a backstay was attached. In one of the photos Johnny sent me it can be seen clearly seen. Had I known I would have included it in the restoration. On the aft deck there is a two-inch-wide stripe running at about 45 degrees to the deck planking".

Major Madden sailing Valkyria. Note the bumkin on the transom courtesy Madden familyMajor Madden sailing Valkyria. Note the bumkin on the transom courtesy Madden family

There was also a vague outline on the other side of the deck also. I assumed that this was the mark of something attached at some stage and not part of the original build.

These two pieces were attached to the deck beams and met and were joined together aft of the rudder head. The backstay was attached to that point".

Onwards with Snipe Sailing Restoration

Fred Ternan hopes to have the restoration of the 80-year-old Ranger by the end of June and the launch at Crom on 7th August. He continues "These boats sailed at Crom from 1954 until 1969 ending approximately 150 years when Crom was the centre of yachting (now sailboat racing) on Lough Erne. After more research, it is safe to say that they and one other are all that remain of a thriving Snipe class fleet in Northern Ireland from the 1930s until the end of the 1960s. Fred says "Whilst the intention had been to restore all three and possibly four, I felt that at present it was sufficient to restore one. That one being Ranger owned and sailed by Mr. Madden, without whom the story would not have become known. After discussing this with my brother George, he and I began work on the restoration some time ago".

Fred Ternan of Lough Erne HeritageFred Ternan of Lough Erne Heritage

It is hoped that Lough Erne will have its own `maritime` museum and when that happens the other Snipe dinghies can be restored, possibly as part of a skills training programme. Restored, they can then be used for people to experience what it was like to sail a pre-war dinghy at that time.

He says "It is so important that the opportunity has been provided to save sailing boats of this age. When we look at photographs or drawings of some of the boats sailed and raced at Crom in the past and try to understand a little of what was involved in designing them for use on Upper Lough Erne, it is sad to think that so much has been lost. With what has been done now and will take place in the future regarding a museum, will research enable so much of the sailing and boating past of Lough Erne and its maritime history, be brought to the attention of the public".

Much work is being done and has been throughout Northern Ireland on preserving, restoring, and rebuilding local and traditional boats and saving their stories but this story of Snipe sailing at Crom and the restoration of one of the boats brings together people from both sides of the province of Ulster. This ties in very well with the aims of Ulster Maritime Heritage, recently established to bring together all those people and groups whose aims are to promote and preserve the maritime heritage of Ulster, be that on the coast or inland waterways".

The launch of Ranger in August will be the next step.

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