Mystic Seaport

Yesterday Bonni and I visited the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. This is the largest maritime museum in the United States and is notable for its collection of sailing ships and boats and for the re-creation of the crafts and fabric of an entire 19th-century seafaring village. It consists of more than 60 historic buildings, many of which are commercial structures moved to the 19-acre site and meticulously restored. If you are in New England and interested in the life of seafarers and their communities you need to visit this museum.

The museum was established in 1929, however fame came with the acquisition of the Charles W. Morgan in 1941, the only surviving wooden sailing whaler. Charles W. Morgan made 37 voyages in her 80 years of service from her home port of New Bedford, MA ranging in length from nine months to five years (hard to imagine!). She brought home a total of 55,000 barrels of sperm whale oil and 153,000 pounds of whalebone. She sailed in the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, surviving ice and snow storms. Her crew survived a cannibal attack in the South Pacific. She was based in San Francisco between 1888 and 1904.

Charles W. Morgan had more than 1,000 whalemen of all races and nationalities in her lifetime. Her crew included sailors from Cape Verde, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Guadeloupe, and Norfolk Island. The ship’s crew averaged around 33 men per voyage. As with other whaleships in the 19th century, Charles W. Morgan was often home to the captain’s family.

In 2010, Mystic Seaport engaged in a five or six million-dollar restoration, intended to restore the ship to seaworthy status. Charles W. Morgan was re-launched into the Mystic River on July 21, 2013, marking the 172nd anniversary of the vessel’s initial launch.

During the summer of 2014, she sailed her 38th voyage on tour of New England seaports which included New London, Newport, Boston, and her home town of New Bedford. She sailed under the command of my high school classmate Captain Kip Files (owner and captain of the Rockland-based schooner Victory Chimes).

The Seaport was one of the first “living history museums” in the US, with a collection of buildings and craftsmen to show how people lived; we especially enjoyed visiting the old drug store, the blacksmith shop and the ship’s store. The museum staff are very knowledgeable and eager to share information. We attended an excellent talk and demonstration at the clock and navigation shop on the history and methods of calculating latitude.

The museum also hosts Williams–Mystic in conjunction with Williams College, an undergraduate program in maritime studies. It turns out that none other than the multi-talented Mr. Eric Laschiver had a hand in developing this program when he was a student at Williams. The program just celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Bonni Jean will be hauled out for winter storage on Monday. She is getting the full winterization treatment which is far more time consuming and laborious than expected. Because of the cold New England winters we must remove liquids, drain and add antifreeze to vulnerable pipes, lay up the water-maker, a/c systems, generator and engines etc. IMG_0632IMG_1529IMG_1523IMG_1522IMG_1526IMG_1528IMG_1527Fortunately Bonni’s cousin Tyrrell who lives in Portsmouth and recently left the Navy will be giving me a hand with some of the heavy lifting next week. He is very knowledgeable and will, I am sure, be a tremendous help. Indeed, one of the unexpected benefits of our change in plans is that we’ve had an opportunity to get to know Tyrrell and his lovely (and loving) family a lot more!

We will attend Yom Kippur services at the Touro Synagogue where the community has made us feel extremely welcome.

Newport

Last week we returned to Newport, RI as we made our planned voyage south. Unfortunately Bonni broke two fingers while mooring the boat in “salty” conditions. She is scheduled for surgery tomorrow to get the bones put back together. Since there’s a somewhat lengthy healing process we decided to pivot and change our schedule around and visit Australia and New Zealand this year rather than next year.IMG_1410

We will leave the boat on dry land at Newport RI and restart the adventure again come spring. We’ll cruise Maine in more depth and also visit Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. We will then start to head south to the Bahamas.

In the meanwhile we plan to stay on the boat in Newport until 1 October and with relatives in New Hampshire thereafter. Newport is a very impressive place is is truly a sailing Mecca and an historical jewel. On the historic side, aside from the preserved mansions, the Newport Historic District covers 250 acres in the center of town. It has an extensive and well-preserved assortment of intact colonial buildings dating from the early and mid-18th century. We have spent a fair amount of time walking through the Historic District but still have more to explore. One thing we discovered was the Touro Synagogue. It is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America, and the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era. We met the rabbi, attended Shabbat services and plan to celebrate the High Holy Holidays there. IMG_1411

This week the New York Yacht Club is hosting The Rolex NYYC Invitational Cup which is a regatta for yacht clubs from around the world and their sailors. Over the past decade or so this regatta has become an important Corinthian sailing competition and there are 14 teams from Japan, Argentina, the UK etc. The racing is in the beautiful NYYC Swan 42s – the eighth one-design class created by the New York Yacht Club since 1900. The NYYC clubhouse in Newport is nothing less than stunning.

This week marks the start of the Newport International Boat Show, one of the largest boat shows in the country. Newport usually hosts a large array of spectacular boats and based upon what we’ve seen the past week, the number of super yachts and exotics seems to be ramping up for the boat show. For example, Aurora the Nordhavn 120 is here (http://www.nordhavn.com/models/120/) as is 280’ m/v Vibrant Curiosity and a number of Gunboats, Perini Navis and the like. It’s truly incredible and I’m looking forward to the show. Oh yes, btw in anticipation of the show I’ve made a $5,000 offer on Vibrant Curiosity ($110 million build). We’ll see how it goes.

New Bedford and Portsmouth, RI

This was an excellent week! We visited New Bedford, MA, visited with Bonni’s first cousin Alison, and attended our first Polo match.

To visit New Bedford we moored at the historic New Bedford Yacht Club. The club was founded in 1877 and is located on Padanaram Harbor in the town of South Dartmouth. It is a beautiful facility with a lovely clubhouse, dining and a bar, extensive dockage, two launches that operate until 2200 hours, and a massive mooring field. Friendly people and a first class operation. IMG_1349

Bon’s cousin Alison joined us for a couple of days and we had a marvelous visit. Until this short visit I did not really know her but now we’re bff. Bon and Alison had a lot of catching up to do and we plan on visiting Alison and her husband Charlie when we get to Florida.

We spent an entire day exploring the historic parts of the New Bedford downtown and waterfront. New Bedford is the home of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the centerpiece of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. It is the country’s largest museum on the subject of whaling and the history of interaction between humans and whales. The museum and other nearby exhibits are outstanding. The museum has the skeletons of a 66-foot long baby blue whale, a 35-foot-long adult humpback whale, and a 45-foot-long sperm whale on display (see below). We also went on two Park Service walking tours. Here’s some of what we learned:

Europeans first settled New Bedford in 1652. English Plymouth Colony settlers purchased the land from Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe. The settlers used the land to build the colonial town of Old Dartmouth. A section of Old Dartmouth near the west bank of the Acushnet River, originally called Bedford Village, was officially incorporated as the town of New Bedford in 1787 after the Revolutionary War. The name was suggested by the Russell family, who were prominent citizens.

The economy of the Pilgrim settlement in the New Bedford area was initially based around a few farming and fishing villages. The early Bedford Village quickly became a commercial zone and from there became a major whaling and foreign trade port. In the early 18th century, the Russell family purchased this area and developed it into a larger village.

By the 18th century, entrepreneurs in the area, such as whaling merchants from nearby Nantucket, were attracted to the village and helped make it into one of the top whaling cities in the country. The most significant of these merchants was Joseph Rotch, who bought 10 acres of land in 1765 from Joseph Russell III on which he and his sons ran the family business. Rotch moved his business to New Bedford since it would be better for refining whale oil and manufacturing candles made from whales. As these parts of the whaling industry had been monopolized by a merchant cartel in Boston, Newport, Rhode Island, and Providence, Rhode Island, Rotch felt that it would be better for business to handle these himself by moving to the mainland.

The relationship between New Bedford and Nantucket allowed the two cities to dominate the whaling industry. In 1848 New Bedford resident Lewis Temple invented the toggling harpoon, an invention that would revolutionize the whaling industry. This helped make New Bedford the preeminent city in the U.S. whaling industry.

Another factor was the increased draft of whaling ships, in part the result of greater use of steel in their construction, which made them too deep for Nantucket harbor. Syren, the longest lived of the clipper ships, spent over a decade transporting whale oil and whaling products to New Bedford, principally from Honolulu, and was owned for several years by William H. Besse of New Bedford. As a result of its control over whaling products that were used widely throughout the world (most importantly whale oil), New Bedford became one of the richest per capita cities in the world.

Many whalers would quit their jobs in 1849, though, as the Gold Rush attracted many of them to leave New Bedford for California. During this time Herman Melville, who worked in New Bedford as a whaler, wrote Moby-Dick and published it in 1851; the city would be the initial setting of the book, including a scene set in the Seaman’s Bethel, which still stands today. As you can see in the picture below, we sat in his seat at the Bethel.

Despite the power it gave to New Bedford, the whaling industry began to decline starting in 1859 when petroleum, which would become a popular alternative to whale oil, was discovered. (I strongly suggest that readers listen to the old Jonathan Winters album and his hilarious depiction of the last days of whaling…it’s a hoot.) Another blow came with the Whaling Disaster of 1871, in which twenty-two New Bedford whalers were lost in the ice off the coast of Alaska. Because the whalers had killed off most of the nearby whales they had been forced to go greater distances to seek their prey. Some ships were gone for five years or more! The largest whaling company in the United States sent out its last whaleship in 1914, and whaling in New Bedford came to its final end in 1925, with the last whaling expedition.

On our second walking tour we learned that since the seventeenth century, New Bedford has been a major destination for immigrants. As the whaling industry grew, the need for crewmen for ships influenced New Bedford’s ethnic character. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, crews were drawn from men of African, British, or Native American ancestry who had settled in and around the city. Beginning around 1800, increasing numbers of whalemen from the Azores and Cape Verdes, islands governed by Portugal, joined the crews of New Bedford vessels and began to make their homes in the city. As a potato famine ravaged Ireland in the mid-19th century, many residents fled and established a large New Bedford Irish community.

African-Americans have been a presence in New Bedford since its early days. Runaway and freed slaves were attracted by the Quaker majority’s early opposition to slavery and the prospect of employment on whaleships. Free seamen from continental Africa, the Cape Verde Islands, and the Caribbean also became part of the African-American heritage of New Bedford.

More than 3,000 African-Americans served on New Bedford whalers between 1803 and 1860. However, after the turn of the twentieth century, Cape Verdeans became the backbone of the whaling industry.

New Bedford was an important stop on the “underground railway,” a network of people opposed to slavery, who hid runaway slaves in homes and churches. Frederick Douglass found refuge in New Bedford from 1837-1841. He worked at Coffin’s Wharf before becoming a renowned abolitionist, orator, politician, and writer.

Like other American cities, New Bedford was transformed by 19th century industrialization, which brought an influx of immigrants, who wanted jobs and relief from difficult conditions in their native lands. Although only 14% of the city’s population was foreign-born in 1865, the development of the textile industry swelled that percentage to 40% by 1900.

Portuguese from mainland Portugal and the Madeira islands began arriving after 1870 to work in the mills, joining earlier immigrants from the Azores and Cape Verde Islands to make the Portuguese the largest cultural community in New Bedford today.

French-Canadians also came to work in the mills in the years after the end of the Civil War. For a time around 1900, they were the largest group of immigrants in New Bedford.

In the mid-1840s, New Bedford was the site of the first petroleum fuel refinery in the United States, as newly discovered Pennsylvania crude oil was shipped to New Bedford to be refined for lamp oil and other oil. Standard Oil would ultimately buy this refinery, located on Fish Island.

New Bedford was able to remain wealthy because of its textile industry. Starting in 1881, the textile industry grew large enough to sustain the city’s economy. The era of textile prosperity began to decline in the Great Depression and ended in the 1940s. At its height, though, over 30,000 people were employed by the 32 cotton-manufacturing companies that owned the textile factories of New Bedford.

Tool and die operations like the Morse Company also left, starting in the 1970s.

New Bedford is still home to a significant commercial fishing community that fishes the Georges Bank. We visited a small museum dedicated to this industry.

Today we transited to Portsmouth and Bonni noticed that there was a scheduled Polo Match between the US team and the Brits. As luck would have it, the marina manager knew the father of the team captain and before we knew it we had front row seats at the match. It was an impressive event and nothing like I had imagined. It was not a swanky event…there were people from all walks of life in attendance. The action on the grounds lasted about two hours and the play is intense. I’d definitely do it again. Stewie concurs.

(Credit to Wikipedia, various National Park Service brochures, and the New Bedford town website.)IMG_0535IMG_0534IMG_0533IMG_0530IMG_0529IMG_0527IMG_0524IMG_1362

Heading South From Maine

After a great month in Maine we are now heading south. During our stay the weather has been very cooperative neither too hot nor too cold, the humidity has been quite acceptable and there hasn’t been a great deal of rain. Mercifully, the mosquitos and black flies have been largely absent. All-in-all excellent environmental conditions.

We have visited with relatives and old friends including my brother Jordan and his wife Debbie, Helen Nyer, Steven Nyer, and Sam Silverman and has beautiful family. We visited Anita Zeno in Camden, the Balsams in Falmouth, Adam Russell in Belfast, Carol and Ralph Graves in Sargentville, and Jack Brookings and Dean Stern in Bangor. We also made some new friends including the Stuckey family from Brunswick.

Two days ago we stayed in the Town of York Harbor. Since York is at the southern end of Maine and we considered anything south of Augusta to be virtually another state, I did not know a great deal about this city when I grew up in Bangor. Here is what I learned when visiting York:

York was settled by Europeans in 1624 and was originally called Agamenticus, the Abenaki term for the York River. In 1638, settlers changed the name to Bristol after Bristol, England, from which they had immigrated. Envisioning a great city arising from the wilderness, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, lord proprietor of Maine under the Plymouth patent, named the capital of his province Gorgeana. In 1642, by charter of King Charles I, Gorgeana became the first incorporated city in America.

Following Gorges’ death, the Massachusetts Bay Company claimed his dominion. In 1652, York, Massachusetts, was incorporated from a portion of Gorgeana, making it the second oldest town in Maine after Kittery, incorporated two years earlier. It was named for York, England. But control of the region was contested between New England and New France, which incited Native Americans to attack English settlements throughout the French and Indian Wars.

During King William’s War, York was destroyed in the Candlemas Massacre of 1692. During the raid by the natives about 50 inhabitants were slain and near 100 carried away captive.The final local Indian attack occurred at the Cape Neddick area during Dummer’s War in 1723. Hostilities diminished with the French defeat at the Siege of Louisbourg (1745), and ceased altogether with the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
As provincial capital and site of the Royal Gaol (Jail), York prospered. IMG_0518IMG_0519Numerous wharves and warehouses serviced trade with the West Indies. Agricultural products and lumber were shipped in exchange for sugar, molasses and other commodities. One notable merchant was John Hancock, whose establishment is now a museum. Following the Revolution, however, President Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 crippled trade. York, bereft of status as capitol, would not again be prosperous until after the Civil War.
Like Bar Harbor and Newport, Rhode Island, York became a fashionable summer resort, and retains many distinctive examples of Gilded Age architecture, particularly in the Shingle Style. We explored a cluster of historic buildings in the center of York Village which are maintained as museums by their Historical Society.

York Harbor itself had a ferocious current and we rocked and rolled much of the night.

When we revisited Portsmouth we were on a mission to order a new mattress. Mission accomplished and we plan to pick it up the new mattress when we get to Norfolk, VA. I would have loved to spend more time in Portsmouth as it is a lovely old town. During our bicycle exploration we saw many homes from the 1600’s and early 1700’s. The Portsmouth Yacht Club is located in New Castle which was founded in 1623! Quite beautiful! We said goodbye to our friends the Balsams in Portsmouth and went out to a delicious dinner with our new friends the Stuckeys.

IMG_0520Tonight we are back to the beautiful Eastern Point Yacht club north of Boston.

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Exploring Castine

Today we spent the entire day exploring Castine. Stewie, Bonni and I were determined to see as much of this historic town as possible. The town is home to the Maine Maritime Academy, has a number of historic sites, and the Wilson Museum, an institution featuring exhibits of anthropological, natural and local artifacts. Castine’s streets are lined with Federal, Greek Revival, Cape Cod and other antique style houses, and shaded by large elms trees. (Dutch elm disease pretty much wiped out the elm population elsewhere in Maine.) The Castine Post Office is the in one of the oldest Post Office buildings in continuous operation in the United States, the Federal government began leasing the building (built in 1817) in 1833 and later purchased the building.

While I had visited this town many times as a youngster, I was until today unaware of its rich history.

In the 1630s the French built a fort in Castine and called it Fort Pentagöet – the name used by the French to describe the Penobscot and its tributaries.  The fort was part of France’s attempt to maintain and extend their control over “Acadia” – the name given to the region between the Kennebec and St. Croix Rivers.  The Dutch briefly occupied Castine, once in 1674 and again in 1676, when they bombarded it from the bay.  After coming ashore, they completely destroyed Fort Pentagöet.  In 1713 Acadia became part of the British Empire.

The earliest permanent settlement here began in the 1760s. In 1779 the British Royal Navy sent a detachment of troops to Castine.  They built a fort on the highest point of ground nearest the entrance to the bay and named it Fort George.  The remains of the fort are still here and the view is lovely.

The colonial Massachusetts Board of War resolved to send a combined naval and military expedition to recapture the area, but poor coordination, bickering commanders, inadequate training and inexplicable delays allowed the British to defend the Fort successfully, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Americans. I believe this was the worst naval defeat in US history until Pearl Harbor.

In 1812 war broke out again between the British and the Americans, and in late 1814 the British arrived again, this time without opposition.  During this second occupation, the British authorities collected customs duties, and when they left they took the money with them.
The years between the end of the War of 1812 and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 marked Castine’s greatest prosperity.  That prosperity came largely from the sea, from fish, from the salt needed to preserve them, and from building the ships needed to catch them.  In the springtime nearly five hundred fishing vessels could be seen in Castine’s harbor awaiting salt, and over one hundred commercial sailing vessels were built here.  Local ropewalks, sail lofts and ship chandlers provided all necessary goods and services for the maritime trade.

According to one source, in 1850 Castine had the second highest per capita wealth of any city or town in the United States.  Street names such as Perkins, Dresser, and Dyer, are reminiscent of Castine’s merchant families of the pre-Civil War era.  Their wealth is still reflected in the Federal and Greek-Revival style homes along Main Street, Court Street, and Perkins Street.

When war broke out in 1861, Castiners rallied to the cause of the Union sending 157 men to serve.  The Civil War statue on the Common was erected in 1881, a tribute to their memory.  By then the fishing vessels that had once occupied the town’s wharves were replaced by steamboats carrying tourists and summer visitors, sometimes called “rusticators”, to Castine’s hotels and summer “cottages.”
By the 1920s, more and more Americans traveled by automobile and fewer by railroad or steamboat.  This impacted Castine’s tourism, and many of the hotels of the 1880s and 1890s closed or were torn down.  Today only two or three of them remain.  But it appears that a combination of locals and summer residents take beautiful care of the historic houses in town. Ironically, the population today is very close to what it was in 1810!

The Maine Maritime Academy, which enrolls about 1,000 students is the central industry in town. The incoming 220 freshmen started classes yesterday and today we saw the students learning how to march in formation.

After seeing most of town Stewie pooped out on us and we returned to the Bonni Jean. There was good news aboard. The repairs I made to the watermaker and generator seem to have worked and we are now producing upwards of 14 gallons of freshwater per hour!

 

 

 

 

A Great Day in Maine

Yesterday we had a delightful day! The day started early as we needed to get Mary to shore for her flight back to SF. We had a really wonderful visit and we already miss her positive and fun-loving self.

Typical of boat living we had to fix something. This time it was repairing the watermaker. We’ve been having problems with it since the start and with the help of a very patient technical support professional at Spectra we thought we had the problem isolated to a faulty booster pump. The pump was now in hand and I figured it would be a quick fix…no such luck. It seems that the original factory setting on this new watermaker may have been the source of the problems. Job was semi-complete by 1300 hours.

We then rode our bikes on some of the myriad carriage trails that intersect throughout the interior of Mount Desert Island. Beginning in about 1890, MDI became a summer resort haven for a number of wealthy families, including the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Vanderbilts. Despite their efforts to keep the island free of motor vehicles, Cars were authorized across the whole island by 1915. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who had a large summer house on the southeastern part of the island, in response embarked on a major effort to build a network of carriage roads on its eastern half, which would be isolated from the roads open to motor vehicles, and which would provide access to the scenic views of the area for walkers, horse carriages and the like. He personally selected the skilled craftsmen who built the roads, bridges, and gatehouses, and directly supervised a significant portion of the work, which took place between 1919 and 1931. The overall design was approved by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The entire project resulted in the construction of more than 50 miles of roads, sixteen bridges, and two Tudor Revival gatehouses, located at the points where the system intersected the public roads.

As a kid growing up I had taken a few short hikes on the trails and as an adult I had done the same including a wonderful walk to Long Pond with Sally Alpert last year. The prospect of exploring many miles by bike was alluring. We entered the system at the NE Harbor gatehouse portal and rode for many miles. It is simply beautiful.  After a couple of hours we then decided to go to the Jordan Pond House for a break. On the way in there was a Park Service ranger who informed us that electric assist bikes are NOT allowed on the carriage roads. We were told that we had to immediately depart and make our way back via the busy public road. There’s absolutely no signage anywhere saying that electric bikes are disallowed but I’m guessing they consider them as motorized vehicles. Needless to say we were disappointed.

On the way back to the boat  we visited the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor.  It was created by lifelong resident of the village, Charles Kenneth Savage, in 1956. Savage, who also owned the elegant Asticou Inn, across the road.

This compact garden and its pond features a selection of rhododendrons and azaleas. Styled after a Japanese stroll garden, the fine-gravel paths are raked regularly in a manner that suggests flowing water. There is also a sand garden, where this effect is repeated but with the addition of stones, which are meant to represent islands.

We then rode our bikes to town, did some food shopping, finished the watermaker repair and enjoyed a lovely dinner lit with the Shabbat candles.

 

Reflections on the Coast of Maine

We have now been in Maine for nearly one week. We picked up Ralph on August 1 in Portsmouth and have slowly made our way to the beautiful town of Camden. All is well!

Two occurances of special note. We went into Rockland on Friday expecting to spend a quiet night in the harbor before moving on to Camden. We noticed a Ferris wheel on shore but did not realize that we have come to Rockland in the midst of the 70th annual Maine Lobster Festival. There were rides, games, crafts, and of course seafood. We decided to take a walk around and then chose to stay for dinner. It was a mass production deal but the food was good. As we were preparing to leave the announcer got on the PA to remind people to be sure to attend the live music which was provided by Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals. I asked Bon and Ralph to humor me and hang around for a few minutes. The Rascals were a high school favorite but I suspected that the show would be a dud lead by an old fart grinder who lost his mojo long ago.  We stayed for the entire show and were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the band and especially with Cavaliere’s energy (he is 75), the quality of his voice and his seeming pleasure in performing.  This is just the type of unexpected surprise that I love about cruising.

We wound our way through the myriad of lobster pots and intense fog to get to Camden. I had fond memories of this beautiful town from my youth and the current reality did not disappoint. This is the quintessential New England town (the original Peyton Place was filmed here) and has not been over run with junk shops and kitsch like Boothbay Harbor. The Camden Yacht Club, which was founded in 1906, boasts a beautiful club house designed by John Calvin Stevens and erected in 1912. Very friendly people and a great mooring field where we rode out our first lightening storm.

In the fortuitous event department, we had an unplanned visit with a close friend of Bonni’s mother, Anita Zeno, who runs the lovely Belmont Inn in Camden. Great to see her and catch up and hope to see more of her in the future.

We also met up with my brother Jordan and his wife Debbie for dinner. It was a fun gathering…the first of many over the next few weeks.

Today we have a good sailing breeze and we are heading to Buck’s Harbor and our exploration of the Penobscot Bay Area. Ralph will complete his journey with us here but we will be visiting with Carol and him over the next several days (including a planned day trip circumnavigating Deer Isle). Mary Hickey joins us on Monday as well. More later.

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