Jersey Kayak Adventures

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Sea Kayak Visibility at Sea

December 20th, 2017

It’s easy to spend a lot of cash on equipment to help you to be spotted more easily. With a bit of prior planning and flexibility many options can be cost effective, if implemented when buying or replacing kit.


This is one of the easiest to adopt especially when buying new kayaks and kit. If you want to know which colour is likely to be best on the sea, have a look at the colours used by search and rescue lifeboats and crew.

In 2008 Rob Mosely carried out a surf ski rescue exercise in South Africa in “realistic conditions” (5-30 kts of wind and 1-2 m breaking waves) using both a helicopter and lifeboats. From the air the red kayak was always spotted first. The white kayak was also seen but the aircrew reported it was harder to see amongst breaking waves. To sum this up: the kayaks were easier to spot, the paddlers themselves less so.

Bright colour schemes that contrast with the sea and backdrop give the most visibility. Adding day glow or reflective (SOLAS) tape increases visibility.

If you already own a dark coloured kayak, vinyl graphics are worth considering and are available for sea kayakers Designs can be produced in a range of colours and even to your own specifications. This option is also worth considering, if you want a custom colour scheme when buying a new kayak.

Spot the kayaks. Green may be good for smuggling but it is hard to see.

Be bright

At sea level you are the highest point on the kayak, so if you wear bright colours, you increase your chances of being seen by your group and others.

There has been some research on the most effective colours to be seen on the sea but as a rough guide the brighter the better and you can get a good idea by looking at the kit rescue services use.

Remember, if you end up in the water, most of your PFD is likely to be submerged so the arms of your paddle jacket may be the only bits visible. Many paddle jackets can also be bought with reflective tape which is very effective in poor light.

The 2008 South African test found a paddler wearing bright clothing was easier to spot from the lifeboat.

A brightly coloured cap, hood or helmet is very effective and will help maintain group control in rougher water when most of the kayak and paddler may be hidden by waves.

Brightly coloured paddle blades can be very useful and often people may notice the paddle flash as light reflects off the paddle blade.

Radar reflectors on sea kayaks

Radar reflector on a sea kayak

Maine Sea Grant Extension College conducted extensive tests in the use of radar reflectors with sea kayaks to aid visibility with some surprising results. The report is well worth reading, if you are considering using a reflector .

Key findings:

The higher the reflector the better.

A stronger return signal was obtained when the kayak was side on or in a group.

Around 1/4 mile range kayaks consistently showed up on radar, regardless of whether there was a reflector in use or not.

1 mile from the radar platform the sea kayaks were not visible on radar, whether or not they had reflectors.

If paddling in areas where there are motorised craft, high speed ferries, large motor cruisers and rigid inflatable boats may be travelling at up to 44 knots. At 1 mile range they have less than 1½minutes to spot you on the radar screen and react. The South African tests also found that from the bridge of a high speed rescue boat – heading into the wind and swell – the spray and movement of the boat made spotting the kayaks difficult.

In 2011 a high speed ferry travelling at 35 kts in fog ran down Les Marquises, a 9.5 m lobster fishing boat. The radar blip was visible but the boat was not spotted by the crew of the ferry. Between the first appearance on the radar and collision there was just 1 minute 41 seconds to react. <The English report can be read here. If the radar is not watched, the quality of the radar signal produced by a sea kayak is irrelevant.

When kayaking in shipping lanes or places away from the coast or where other craft may not expect to find sea kayakers, assume you are invisible unless you tell other craft/coastguard you are in the area. It is also worth monitoring Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) when near commercial ports. Engine sounds can easily be missed depending on the wind and sea conditions. Keep your VHF switched on and keep it in a place that allows immediate access.

Foil blankets

If you need to increase radar visibility, e.g. in shipping lanes or in an emergency, the Maine research found an improvised radar reflector hat made out of space blanket style foil worked very well. Dutch paddlers also report foil space blankets wrapped around a paddler will produce a stronger return signal.

Foil blankets are reported to be very effective as a means of reflecting sunlight e.g. as a helicopter approaches.

Signal mirrors

CD’s may be a cheap way of reflecting light but they de-laminate and are less effective compared to signal mirrors made of glass or lexan. Even on cloudy days signal mirrors will produce a flash and some writers report they will work with a bright full moon. In some countries they are a required item of safety kit.

Read the instruction manual and practice using the mirror to get the best results.

Invisibility is not an asset

For both group control and safety it is important to consider how easy it is for others to see our small craft. Unless you are engaged in smuggling, invisibility is not an asset, especially if things start to go wrong and the group becomes separated.

Whatever options you select no single solution will cover all situations.

Consider the area you are sea kayaking in and also the type of trip and your group.

While the ability to be seen is a vital consideration, some form of communication remains an essential component on any trip.

Sign up for our courses

You’ll learn lots on our sea kayak courses and have an opportunity to test out some of the tips in this article.

Derek Hairon.

Sea Kayaking in Fog and Poor Visibility

January 12th, 2016

We awoke enveloped in fog, not that misty stuff which creates a haze, but instead something that felt like we were in cotton wool. For the last two days by the time we’d had breakfast and broke camp the fog had started to lift so we not unduly concerned and the forecasts confirmed this would occur.

1 hour after launching we found we were paddling in visibility of less than 100m and sometimes Tony, paddling less than 50m away, was becoming a misty shadow. We were now 6 miles offshore and 12 miles from our destination.

Sea kayaking in fog and poor visibility is something most active sea kayakers encounter at some stage. Around Jersey (my local waters) fog and forecasts of poor visibility are an irritating occurrence which can stop flights and delay ferries. Annoyingly this often coincides with otherwise great paddling conditions. Over the years I’ve found myself paddling in poor to very poor visibility and with the right mindset the experience can be enriching.

What is fog

There are various types of fog and the causes of poor visibility which is covered in great detail on the UK Met office website: Fog is caused by tiny water droplets suspended in the air. In other words it is very low cloud and you can read more here: .

Fog is defined as visibility of less than 1 kilometre (1.2miles)

Mist is visibility between 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) – 2 kilometres (1.2 miles)

Haze from 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) – 5 kilometres (3.1 mi).

Forecasts define visibility as:

Very poor: Less than 1,000 metres (0.53 nautical miles)

Poor: Between 1,000 metres and 2 nautical miles (3.7km)

Moderate:Between 2 and 5 nautical miles (3.7km-9.26km)

Good: More than 5 nautical miles (9.26km)

Even in poor visibility the range is between 1- 3.7km. Paddle at the upper end of the scale and you fall into the trap of assuming that poor visibility on a coastal trip is no big deal.

The density of fog varies so plan for the poorest visibility forecast and do not assume it will remain at the upper end of the scale.

To add a bit of ‘fun’, fog banks also move about and on a number of occasions I’ve paddled in bright sunlight and good visibility while just a few kilometres away others were looking in very poor visibility of below 1km. <photos of contrasts insert images 6897/8 and 6907> Even if you have good visibility, when poor or very poor visibility is forecast, build into your trip plan the risk of visibility deteriorating.

Useful kit to carry in poor visibility when sea kayaking

If you expect to encounter poor visibility, a few items can make a big difference so long as you know how to use them.

Everyone needs a compass

Paddlers without a compass often end up having to follow the leader which is very demanding for everyone. Mount the compass away from you so you do not have to constantly look down. This allows your focus to move between the horizon, compass, chart and monitoring other paddlers. This helps break up the uniformity of the scene and may also reduce feeling sea sick. Small baseplate style compasses are often difficult to read.

If everyone paddles on a bearing, then life becomes easier, because the route of the kayakers across the water tends to average out. If you have only one compass in the group, everyone will be matching the slightest turn of the leader.

Years ago I watched fog descend while on Herm. Mutterings were heard around the bar as the ferry boat prepared to leave, and was followed by the mass exodus of small boats following one behind the other as they followed the ferry back to Guernsey. We wondered what would have happened, if the ferry had in fact been on a private charter and was heading to Jersey.

If you stop paddling, you will probably drift around a little and in good visibility this is usually irrelevant. In fog a pause may result in you facing a different direction. Without a compass bearing you’ll rapidly become disorientated and end up heading in the wrong direction.

Charts and communication

Charts are invaluable because they allow you to monitor your route and to identify any visible bits of coastline. Even familiar sections of coast may appear different in fog.

Carry some form of communication which, ideally, is duplicated within the group. This is especially important, if you are paddling where other craft may be about. They may be focusing on their radar and chart plotters and will not be expecting to see kayakers.

Fog horns and laser flares

In some countries e.g. France a fog horn is a required item of kayaking kit. They can be powered by a small compressed air container (which usually gets discharged by your friends having fun) or a simple plastic horn you blow into. The range is usually greater than a whistle.

Modern laser flares can penetrate fog more effectively and powerful LED strobes used in conjunction with recently released retro glow tapes produce up to 3000 times the reflection of a beam of light to increase detection even in fog. Small and low cost high visibility glow patches can also help especially when available in different colours < editor- consider using img 5330-002>. However, if the group becomes separated, you are heading into deep trouble and then technology is not the key but maintaining group awareness.

Sea kayaking in poor visibility

If you are heading out with forecasts of poor or very poor visibility, add a few compass bearings into your trip plan. Even a short point to point crossing of a bay may become very challenging. Consider hand-railing (following the coastline rather than jumping from one point to another) your way around the coast.

Expect your speed to drop in poor visibility. It helps to have a good idea of your normal paddling speed so you can revise your ETA to allow for a probable slower crossing.

When the land is rapidly vanishing into the haze try and get a few compass bearings on any headlands or features. If things deteriorate and you lose sight of land this information will be your last accurate bit of information and can be used to counter mutterings from others (and even yourself) that maybe you are being pushed by the wind/currents more off course than expected. This will also give you a dead reckoning of you position. Returning to Jersey on a 6 mile crossing from les Écréhous we found ourselves in fog about half way through the trip with a 3 knot cross tide. Within minutes of the fog arriving came the comment “I think we need to head east a bit more”. Had we not grabbed a last bearing on a distant headland we might well have changed course and found ourselves well offshore.

Trust your pre trip navigation, assuming you normally trust it, as this is not the time to start doubting it. Apart from your speed perhaps being a bit slower than planned your pre trip chart work should remain valid even if fog. Why start changing your bearings because self doubt or the doubt of others has crept in? Even a hazy bearing on a distant landmark helps validate your navigation. The data and preparations made are going to be your only solid bits of information, so trust it, it’s all you have got.

Involve others in the trip planning to share responsibility within the group and reduce the risk of small but possibly significant errors creeping in. If your paddling partners are part of the process they must share some of the responsibility for the outcome of the trip and cannot blame you!

Attending a practical kayak navigation course is a great way to develop your confidence and navigation skills especially, if you have the opportunity to practice micro and night navigation and tide streams.

Wind, sun and sound

Wind can clear or push fog banks on to you. In poor visibility you can sometimes use the sensation of any breeze or even swell patterns to maintain a rough course. Keep wind or swell coming from the same direction as you paddle. However, both wind and swell directions may change and should be used with caution and are best combined with maintaining a compass course.

Sound can seem to travel a considerable distance in fog but is very deceptive. Tiny waves washing onto a beach may sound like crashing surf. Use sound as an additional source of information and rarely make major course changes based solely on this. If the sounds validate your navigation and dead reckoning, that’s great.

During a very foggy 18 nautical mile crossing from France to Jersey we heard vehicles an hour before our planned ETA and wondered, if we had drifted along the more populated south coast of the island. We stuck to our course and later realised that the vehicle sounds were caused by a couple of cars going up and down a hill a short distance from our destination.

If you are lucky, the sun sometimes makes an appearance and can indicate the fog is thinning. The position of the sun relative to your course can act as a handy guide and may let you relax from staring at the compass.

Tune in to the environment

Poor visibility is an opportunity to focus on small changes in the sea and tide streams. Look for variations in the colour of the water which might indicate changes in depth. Link this to your chart work and it may indicate you are approaching the shore or moving into shallow or deeper water. Changes in the swell may warn of an approaching beach long before you see or hear the waves.

In rocky areas look out for boomers especially in areas exposed to swell. Even the passing swell of ships and motor boats can seem to come out of nowhere.

Work as a team

How you manage the group will depend on many factors such as their previous experience. Often there will be a range of skills and experience of paddling in poor visibility within the group. It usually feels more comfortable for everyone to see each other rather than buddy up which can result in paddlers focusing only on their partner and losing contact with the rest of the team.

Check how the team feels about the forecast and actual conditions both before and during the trip. All to often incidents have occurred in which others felt uneasy with the plans but had felt uncomfortable to voice their feelings. A simple method is to ask the team to stand with their backs to you and then indicate (by the number of fingers raised) on one hand how comfortable they feel about the trip. No-one except the team leader will know who gave the 1 finger (not at all happy) sign compared to the 5 fingers -no hassle/great- rating. If you are feeling uncomfortable about the trip, you can be fairly sure others are also thinking the same.

Ultimately, if things get very difficult, rafting up and waiting may be the best option providing you have some form of communication.

GPS and technology

“It’s okay we have a GPS” sounds fine until you learn it is the only one in the group. Some years ago on an 11.5m tide we set off from La Rocque harbour to paddle 8 nautical miles to Les Écréhous. We’d planned the navigation and all that was stopping us was some poor visibility. But it was okay, we had GPS. Only by using the GPS did we locate Les Écréhous because visibility remained under 1/2 mile for the entire trip. In hindsight the power of technology had influenced our decision and had been over reliant on a small battery powered unit. A single GPS shared between the group is not sufficient. Nowadays, if faced with a trip in very poor visibility I’d hope to see everyone carrying a GPS which in the event of separation might make the risk of separation less catastrophic.

Having a GPS can also cause the navigator to feel over confident and keep paddling at their normal speed while the others play catch up and become separated -as once happened to a group of experienced kayakers heading to Les Écréhous. Luckily the rest of the group appeared out of the fog 10 minutes later.

If you wish to tune up your navigation skills while maintaining a safety backup then the GPS is invaluable, so long as it is not your sole aid. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you have a wonderful bit of technology all will be okay. Batteries go flat, water seeps in and gear gets washed overboard.

Other Vessels

If you are in an area where other vessels are likely to be sailing, be afraid, very afraid …

In poor visibility, the crew will be busy monitoring the radar and trying to maintaining a watch for known hazards and other vessels. Sea kayakers may literally fall beneath their radar.

Writing about a 60 mile crossing of the English Channel from Alderney to Weymouth Kevin Mansell describes how in poor visibility he has “…seen the bow wave of a large ship at close quarters and it frighted the life out of me….The forecasts said fog patches soon clearing so we were not unduly worried. In this case the fog patch was about 58 miles across”.

In March 2011 a high speed ferry travelling in fog at 35 knots cut a 9.3m fishing boat in half killing the skipper and injuring the crew. The enquiry revealed that despite of the radar echo showing a collision course the crew failed to notice the boat due to a lack of attention. Read the report here.

On my practical navigation courses I highlight how, if a large ship cannot notice a 9m aluminium boat with radar reflectors etc. in fog, we should not be surprised, if in better visibility vessels of any size may not detect sea kayakers. Ditch the idea other craft are going to see you and assume you are invisible. Fog is not the time to be crossing shipping lanes and if you are in areas where you expect to encounter other craft inform the Coastguard so other skippers are made aware and be ready to put out a call on your marine radio to alert other vessels of your presence.

After 6 hours kayaking a faint outline formed in the mist. Land ahoy! Suddenly we burst through the fog into bright sunlight within yards of our target. I’d like to think this was down to our navigational skills and not just good luck.

Since then I’ve been rather more cautious of forecasts that say the fog will soon clear.

This article first appeared in Ocean Paddler Magazine.

Derek Hairon

Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning Course

January 7th, 2016

Develop your knowledge of weather, tides and navigation skills around Jersey. This course is suitable for kayakers, small boat owners and anyone wanting to explore the low water zone safely.

Tuesdays 1900-2130, January 12, 19, 26, February 2. Course outline.

Venue: St Helier Yacht Club.

Costs: £85. All equipment is supplied. Book online. T.07797853033

Sea Kayaking in Fog. Be Prepared

May 12th, 2015
Derek hairon. Les Ecrehous sea kayaking P1110887

Derek at les Ecrehous, Jersey

Yesterday was a great day to get out sea kayaking in Jersey. A 5 nautical mile offshore trip to les Écréhous off the north east coast of Jersey in our fast sea kayaks looked a good idea. We set out from Archirondel off the east coast with a calm sea, good visibility with barely any wind.

“I can see some grey shadows over there” said Mick. The “shadows” turned out to be a small pod of Dolphin feeding about 1 mile south east of les Écréhous.

It felt cooler once we’d stopped paddling so the extra bits of clothing and paddle jackets we’d packed proved to be a good idea. I later learned that two kayakers dressed in light clothing had been rescued off the south east coast of Jersey after one had fallen in and could not get back into the kayak. On May 11th the sea temperature was 11.5 degrees. Without extra clothing you soon lose your ability to perform a rescue so dress -or be prepared- for immersion.

sea kayaks at les ecrehous, jersey. Rockpool Taran

Mick at les Ecrehous, jersey

An evening snack while sitting on a bench looking back towards Jersey was a chance to enjoy the peacefulness of this wonderful place. We were the only people on the les Écréhous apart from a couple of yachts on the moorings.

As we sat on the bench Mick spotted another shadow. This time it seemed to be forming along the north coast of Jersey. Just a bit of haze we thought at first but as we watched it gradually crept eastwards.

After 20 minuted paddling the “shadow” had changed into a fog bank and visibility was less than 100m. At times Mick was starting to look a bit hazy so it must have been even less visibility. The last time I’ paddled in these conditions I was on a 5 hour crossing when the had been due to lift but instead remained around us for almost the entire trip. We could hear aircraft on their approach into Jersey airport repeatedly trying to land.

Sea kayaking in the fog back to Jersey

Sea kayaking in the fog back to Jersey

For the next hour we cruised across a mirror like sea on a compass bearing of 240 degrees which we’d calculated would allow for the south east running stream. Sounds of vehicles and aircraft drifted through the fog but they seemed to come from all directions. If you stopped for a moment our kayaks ended up pointing in all directions. Without a compass and a bearing to steer we’d have been in trouble.

We had a GPS was on board. However, we had a compass bearing, and knew our speed was about the same as usual. Some kayakers find there speed drops when they enter fog or head offshore so this is something which might alter the route plan and timings. In our case paddling in fog just added a nice dimension in what was still excellent sea conditions. There seemed little need to use the GPS until we were around or just past our estimated time of arrival. Jersey is also quite a large island to miss -though I know a few who have ended up well off course due to the tide streams and by not trusting a small bit of magnetised metal.

Fog lifting over Jersey at sunset

Fog lifting over Jersey at sunset

Finally the fog lifted 1 hour 20mins after it enveloped us. Directly ahead of us was our target, St Catherine’s breakwater.

Elsewhere around Jersey the fog was very thick while in other areas visibility was very good.

A superb trip which shows how important it is to carry a few basic bits of kit especially when heading away from shore. In these conditions even crossing a bay would have been a challenge without a compass. A compass was an essential item along with a spot of trip planing with a chart. A GPS was just an extra aid but with lots of previous paddling practice at night and in poor visibility it was just an extra safety device.

We had a VHF but were in the strange VHF marine radio “blackspot” that seems to be around St Catherine’s bay and missed a call from the Coastguard which we only learned about when we called in by mobile phone after landing. A good reason to carry a couple methods of communication.

A great trip so long as you have a compass and the right gear.

We run a range of intromediate and advanced sea kayak courses in Jersey

Derek Hairon

Sea Kayak Navigation. Putting Theory into Practice

March 28th, 2014
sea kayak navigation

On the water navigation exercises

Join us on a weekend of practical sea kayak navigation making theory become reality around the scenic coastline of Jersey.

Based on the BCU Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning course the weekend moves from the classroom onto the sea to apply your sea kayak navigation skills to a selection of on the water challenges.

Having planned trips ashore we go afloat to paddle some of the best sections of Jersey’s coastline. This will enable you to develop your practical map/chart reading skills and navigation techniques. Practice using transits, assessing speed and drift, allowing for tide streams and cross tides as well as micro navigation and even paddling in low light/darkness.

Date 13-14 September. Or call to arrange other dates. £200

More information.

Sea kayaking in Jersey. A day of contrasts and changing weather

March 11th, 2013
Sea kayaking near Grve de Lecq,Jersey

Calm seas and sunshine but note the fog banks in the distance

On Saturday Jersey was either a very warm and sunny place or, very foggy.

It all depended on which side of the island you were on. We were kayaking from Greve de Lecq. Trudie was guiding an oyster trail from Seymour slip on the south east coast no more then 5 miles away.

Friends were kayaking to Les Écréhous in 40m of visibility running on GPS and chart work/compass course while others were kayaking to the Paternosters (Les Pierre de Lecq) in sunshine.

Jersey Met had forecast a risk of occasional fog banks drifting over from Normandy. It seems this fog bank decided to spend the day sightseeing around Jersey.

Seymour slip in the fog

Seymour slip in the fog. Taken around the same time as the kayaking photo

This is a good reason to always carry a compass -and know how to use it- as the fog could have easily drifted onto us while kayaking. You can see the fog rolling down the cliffs in the distance.

Three days later and we are experiencing snow and force 8 winds!

Derek Hairon



12m high tide today in Jersey is higher than predicted

October 17th, 2012

12m high tide by our house

High water (17/10/2012) at 0814 was predicted at 11.67m.

With low pressure of 998mb and a Force 6 SW wind the actual height of the tide was pushed up to 12m.

The National Oceanography centre tidal gauge for St Helier shows the increase as around .5m.

Previmer surface sea levels data also shows how the wind and low pressure led to the storm surge.

Sea levels remained higher well after the high tide had passed.

Downside is that the low tides are not likely to pull down so far as a result.

Surface sea levels around Jersey

Sea levels remaining above average due to storm surge












Tide gauge at St Helier above predictions by .5m







Derek Hairon on Google+

France to Jersey sea kayak trip 17nm

April 12th, 2012
Sea kayakng France to jersey spot tracker route 12 4 2012

Route taken on the France to jersey sea kayak crossing.

Colin and Michelle just completed this superb open crossing from France to Jersey by sea kayak.

A distance of over 17 nautical miles with West to North-west winds varying between force 2-4 over the course of the 7 hour trip.

They are currently staying on Seymour Tower. Hence the rather abrupt ending some distance offshore.

I’ve done this trip a couple times in the past. It’s one of my favourites and a big offshore experience. I once left Normandy with the thick fog forecast to lift during the morning but it didn’t. Tony Crowsley and I paddled all but the last 200m in thick fog.

At times we had to ensure we stayed together so we did not lose sight of each other. Adventure activities in Jersey at their best!

Fascinating to watch Colin’s progress via the Spot tracker.

Currents and tide streams for the sea kayaker around Jersey

March 17th, 2012

We talk a lot about the Gulf current. This is responsible for keeping our temperatures in Jersey and Europe a lot higher than they would be if we did not receive its warm waters.

Jersey is Latitude 49° 02’N which is roughly the same as Newfoundland where they get much colder weather and waters than us because they do not get the Gulf current. To put this into perspective, were we to not have the Gulf current many British ports would be ice bound in Winter.

This superb video from NASA shows the ocean surface currents around the world between June 2005 to December 2007.


Currents are a steady flow or water in a particular direction.

Tide streams

The movement of the tides produce oscillating currents which are known as tidal streams.

If you sit off one of the headlands around Jersey what you will experience is the tide stream. This can easily reach 5-6 knots (and sometimes even faster) as a result of the huge tidal range in Jersey. Expect tide ranges of around 12 metres. The directions and strengths vary a lot depending on the flood and ebb tides.

Spring and Neap tides will also produce a huge difference in the rate of the flow.

Sources of information about tide streams around Jersey

tide stream directions in the Channel islands

Live data showing tide streams in the Channel Islands from Previmer

The Admiralty tidal stream atlas for the Channel Islands and adjacent coast of France (NP 264) is an essential aid for anyone sea kayaking in Jersey and the Channel islands. Alderney gets its own chapter due to the very fast and complex tide streams around Aldereny, which I can vouch for!

You’ll find a basic tide stream atlas for Jersey here and a more detailed diagram showing the tide streams in the gullies off the south east coast of Jersey.

Real time tidal streams can be found on Previmer.

You can learn a lot about tides, tide streams and kayak navigation on one of the many BCU Coastal Navigation and tidal planning courses. Or, buy a copy of Sea kayak Navigation by Franco Ferrero (who happens to be from Jersey) published by Pesda Press.

Thanks to Kayakyak blog for the video link.

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