Sailing Costa Smeralda, Sardinia and South West Corsica with Captain Ugo on ‘Renardo’

20 Sep

Since our first visit to western Sardinia two years ago we’ve been trying to return to sail the northeastern coastal area. Our fantastic day out on the wooden ship, Andrea Jensen, from Alghero whet our appetite.

This year we found a way to combine two weeks under sail, first on Provident, then chartering what wooden boat sailors derisively call a ‘plastic boat’ out of a marina just north of Olbia airport in Sardinia.

We also booked a skipper with local knowledge as we’d enjoyed the relaxed experience with skipper Jeffrey on the Cote D’Azure. We had hoped some of our offspring and partners could join us but work and job hunting took priority so it was just Stuart and me.

We left ‘Provi’ and crew in Brixham on Friday midday, did our laundry at the local laundrette while having a beer next door, then caught the train to Reading and on to Gatwick to overnight at an airport hotel, and flew Easyjet to Olbia midday next day. So far so good.

Our arrangements included being met by a driver to do the transfer to Portisco Marina. Our man was there with our name sign, praise the lord! Unfortunately he confused us by wandering into the street, talking loudly into his mobile, then handing us over to a regular airport taxi driver without explanation. Oh well, shrug the shoulders and roll the eyes – this is Italy!

Fifteen minutes later we were on the waterfront, peeling off layers of superfluous clothing and settling into a long, cold beer at Cafe Calypso, the appointed rendezvous spot, to await the charter base manager, Matteo. Five pm, the agreed hour, came and went and no Matteo. A text to him prompted a return phone call, ‘Please come to dock five, find the boat ‘Renardo’, I will meet you there’.

Off we traipse, locate the Renardo, a forty foot Bavarian yacht, but the boat is empty. Are you seeing a theme here?IMG_6291.JPG

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We board and unpack our gear. Luxury to have an en suite bathroom, as well as spare cabin to store suitcases, shoes and miscellaneous items.

Matteo arrived and introduced himself. A hyperactive, skinny, 40ish guy, he was clearly not having a good day. Right now he was in the middle of sorting out a problem with another new arrival so we agreed to trot off and do our grocery shop at the marina supermarket and complete the paperwork with him later. Saturday is changeover day for around forty boats. Madness.

Half of Germany was in the supermarket, shopping for the end of the world, or so it seemed from their fully laden trolleys of beer, snacks and paper towels.

We planned to routinely eat lunch and breakfast on board and go out for dinner together so our shopping was more modest. Still we managed to forget essentials like detergent and toilet paper (did we think we were at a serviced apartment?) and had to do a second shop. We also needed to buy toilet cleaner as some bright spark pi$$ed in our toilet but didn’t flush and there were no cleaning products on board. The smell was intensely bad. Reminded me of the apochryphal Jackie Onassis story. Ask me some time and I’ll tell you.

Finally Matteo could meet with us to sign forms and we paid our outstanding fees and accident insurance. A good decision. Matteo also introduced us to our skipper, Ugo, a deeply tanned Italian version of Telly Savalas right down to the cigar smoking (beloved American star of the popular 70s TV series ‘Kojak’ for you young ‘uns). Toscano Antico is Ugo’s preferred poison. Over the coming days we discovered Stuart and Ugo have much in common, including a passionate love of rugby, motorcycles, skiing, wine and food. And happily his taste in music ran to Neil Young, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen and Eric Clapton. Match made in heaven.

Pizza dinner for three at a marina restaurant, a good night’s sleep and we are ready to go sailing!

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Captain Ugo

Ship’s Log Day One – Sunday 14/9/2014:
7:30am sunny and warm, head to shower on shore, change room full of wet, naked, large German women. Marina shop not open to buy fresh bread until 8:30am so purchase croissants from cafe. Hugo shows me how to make Italian coffee in small device on gas stove. Complicated mode of spooning in coffee to ensure adequate aeration. Hugo says he never eats breakfast, just three or four sugared espressos, and also that he usually doesn’t eat lunch either while working. Stu and I breakfast on board. Back to shop to queue for opening which actually happens at 8:50am when cashier Federico arrives, by which time we have 25 large Germans and me jockeying for position. Irony is bread has been left in plastic crates outside the door. We could simply help ourselves. Queue again at bread counter. All tasty loaves sold by the time it’s my turn but I do snaffle decent granary rolls. Back on board problem with refrigerated locker not cooling. Matteo is called. Refrigeration man is called. Departure is delayed. Since we’re delayed Matteo has been asked to try to do something about our bathroom which still stinks. His partner Giuseppe arrives with three different toilet cleaners and blitzes the toilet. We are in danger of being overcome by toxic fumes. Refrigeration man, Manuel, arrives and diagnoses problem. Ice on cooling element is stopping air circulating. Solution is to remove casing and direct heat from hand held hair dryer (which of course he has in his tool kit) onto element to thaw it. I use extra time to cook the chook in case it goes off. Melted ice pools in bottom of fridge so all food must be removed, water mopped up and food replaced.

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Hallelujah we can leave! Motor out of harbour at 10:30am.

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Plan is motor sailing to our lunch spot, a cove two hours away, then sail to La Maddalena harbour. Plan is interrupted by the Swan Regatta which proves so fascinating we put engine into neutral and bob about watching two different classes of multi million euro yachts race around huge yellow inflated bouys.

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US, GB, Italian and French crews hang off the side of boats well heeled over, eight or so matching polo shirts and lots of dangling legs. When they turn with the wind behind them spinnaker colours unfurl like bright insect wings – hot pink, aqua, candy striped. I prepare my crew chicken and salad bread rolls and we munch away with front row seats to a world class event.

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La Maddalena and Caprera Island
Show over we head to our private cove to anchor an easy swim from the rocky shore. The Bavaria 40 is an good rental boat for beginners to handle at sea, virtually idiot proof. I am so relieved though to have Ugo directing operations, especially when docking.

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4pm we start to sail to La Maddalena and Stuart is in hog heaven. Steady breeze allows us to tack to harbour and we only have to motor the final few minutes. A chap in a zodiac plus a handsome young man on the floating quay help us manouvre in to tie up stern first. Such service! They quickly move on to the next new arrival. It’s rush hour. One poor elderly chap in a motor launch wrapped the bow line around his prop and is trying to dive down to untangle it. Many attempts before he succeeds. ‘There but for the grace of God’, I’m thinking….

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Some discussion about the best restaurant choice for dinner. Settle on a trattoria ten minutes along the harbour front. Ugo walks down to make a reservation while we tidy the boat and shower. Our fifty euro fee buys us a safe overnight berth, water, wifi and power, but no showers or toilets on land.

Dinner is delightful. Ugo and Stuart dig into plates of sashimi and cooked seafood, some in a risotto, while I enjoy my spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil and asparagus. Ugo says he has something to attend to so we leave the restaurant and go separate ways. Ten minutes later we turn a corner and see him walking in front of us eating gelati. ‘But it’s free!’, he protests when we tease him. The gelati shop is closing for the winter so they’re handing out free icecream to passers by.

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Ship’s Log Day Two – Monday 15/9/2014:
Misread iphone time which Stu still has on British time and therefore rise rather late. Ugo has already purchased fresh ingredients for cous cous dinner which he offered to cook for us all. Stuart does another quick trip to the shops to get meat, bread, salt and sugar. When you don’t habitually eat things you forget others do. I manage a short yoga sesssion on the end of the floating quay where no boats are moored and watch fish swim below me. The balance poses are especially challenging.

Out of harbour at 10:30am and into the main channel. Stupid motor launch driver passes us while we’re under sail then stops dead in the water right in front of us so his wife can pull fenders in. Ugo lets him have it with both barrels….. Drama over it’s more perfect sailing with Stu at the helm. We make 6 knots water speed, and reach Santa Maria Island with its tiny crescent of beach at 1pm. Proper lunch today of local loopy pasta with a mushroom, garlic and chili sauce, mixed salad, boiled eggs and cheese (for the men) and lima beans for me. Wasp attack while setting up on the stern table sends Stuart inside. They don’t want to hurt us, just curious about what’s available to eat.

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Rest then swim to shore and walk the whole 100 metres of beach to a handmade jewelry stall displaying shell pendants, beaded bracelets and such. I choose a bracelet and pendant but have no money on me to pay (there is nothing else on the beach and just one very expensive restaurant some distance from the beach). We agree the stall holder will borrow a boat to bring the goods to me later and I can pay her then. Lazy afternoon on the boat. Choice of moving to an anchorage buoy here in the partially protected cove or motoring around the corner to a busier cove. Stu prefers to stay so with the help of our only yachting neighbours (after we three collectively stuff up the buoy tie up twice), two French-speaking men with an outboard zodiac, we rope up to the bouy. No sign of the stall holder.

Ugo makes good on his promise of a cous cous dinner. Mouth watering smells and sizzling emanate from the galley. He’s cooking enough for six! Sunset of crimson and gold.

We learn from Ugo, as we demolish mounds of soft, crumbly grains of wheat topped with rich aubergine stew, meat tagine and whole boiled potatos, zucchinis and carrots, that his mother spent much of her childhood in Libya when it was an Italian colony. She taught him to cook. He adds extra harissa paste to his serving, the hotter the better for him!

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Game of scrabble. By 9:45pm we’re all in bed in a food coma. Three small yachts on buoys bobbing up and down.

Ship’s Log Day Three – Tuesday 16/9/2014:
We have a ghost on board. We suspected from day one but last night confirmed. It opens doors in the night. Our bathroom door was securely closed but three times it swung open with a crash and we had to get up to close it. Took half a sleeping pill. Good night ghost. Mixed grey cloud and blue sky this morning but nice easterly breeze. More wasps join us for breakfast. Experiment enticing them with sugar water in bowl but they prefer our bread and jam. For the first time my coffee pot contents look and taste exactly like Ugo’s. I am one step towards being Italian.

Plan today is head towards Bonifacio on south west tip of Corsica to overnight and restock. En route we’ll stop for lunch and swim in cove of Lavezzi Island. We even manage to sail off our buoy, no motor at all!

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Itinerary executed perfectly. Threatened rain didn’t eventuate. Sandy/rocky cove full of yachts and swimmers. Ugo negotiated rocks with aid of ipad GPS and our anchoring technique was spot on. Lunch of leftovers and fresh salad of bulghur wheat, tuna, tomato and lemon juice for the boys. Ugo adopts a seagull chick and feeds it bread. Difference between it and adults is it has fluffier, speckly grey and white feathers and a gawky air.

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Only negative was the incompetent young French skipper who thought he was playing bumper cars and ricocheted off other boats with bravado as he came in to anchor. Reinforced Ugo’s active dislike of French yachtsmen even though two had come to our aid last night.

Up anchor without fuss and motor sail past the chalk white cliffs of southern Corsica into the busy fortified harbour of Bonifacio. I can’t imagine the chaos that must ensue in mid-summer when every boating Parisian and his dog is in Corsica. We have very tight squeeze to get into designated berth between two other yachts. This time a quiet German gentleman comes to our aid. Must stop being rude about other nationalities since most boaties, wherever they’re from, seem keen to help one another. Next door Brits are well into cocktail hour. We walk to Capitanerie to pay dues and collect shower tokens. Ugo remembers he not brought boat papers but shrugs his shoulders and says he will be remembered by the girls at the desk and the yacht will be on their system. Unfortunately it isn’t. He returns to boat to collect papers and we ogle the very empty super yacht ‘Silver Angel’. All that floating money and no one enjoying it. I pay 49 euros for one night for power, water, a cold shower, toilets and malfunctioning wifi.

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Plastic marquee restaurants line the quay offering moules, langoustine and other fish dishes galore but I can’t get excited about eating out again when the entire menu is dedicated to carnivores. I opt to stay on board to read and catch up with this blog and Stuart decides to join me. Ugo has friends in every port and goes to spend the evening with them. We think he is secretly happy to have a night off from us. I would be. Sitting on the stern deck with the walls of the fort lit up above me, listening to a piano accordian rendition of ‘My Way’ from a nearby restaurant I am content with my choice.

Ship’s Log Day Four – Wednesday 17/9/2014:
With so many people crammed into a small place it’s inevitable a few will be dickheads. Last night it was a bunch of loud, drunken French-speaking men talking and singing until 3am. Then the garbage trucks started rounds at 4am. I am told this is what happened. Ugo slept fitfully as he overate BBQ beef and lamb and drank too much Corsican wine. I was blissfully only vaguely aware as I took half a sleeping pill when the revellers were at their peak at 1am and woke refreshed at 7am to start our planned stroll up to the fort and to buy fresh wholewheat Sardinian bread. Inside the fort is a whole other Bonifacio. Tiny doors onto the cobbled streets lead straight up narrow staircases that become almost ladders. Restaurants perch atop the cliffs with view windows you could fish out of. It’s a grey day threatening rain. We leave harbour uneventfully at 10:30am and pass by the grotto and under the white cliffs beloved of Napoleon Bonaparte. Destination a crescent of white sand beach, Spiaggio Liscia, windsurfing capitol of Italy. Consists of ramshackle wooden clubhouse with open storage for equipment and a small bar and toilet run by two kindly Sardinian brothers, Simone and Stefano, both legends in the windsurfing world and good friends of Ugo. A chance to watch kite surfing at one end of the beach and wind surfing at the other. Never the twain shall meet for fear of blood shed. We see a world champion, Stefano Lorioli, in action, and about ten others of varied levels and many ages. Kite surfing is clearly in the ascendance, at least twice the number screaming over the waves.

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A salt marsh and lake lie on the other side of the beach. We stretch our legs walking beside the lake noticing how few birds there are compared with, say, the Camargue. Back in the bar it’s fusball time. Stu and Ugo are challenged by two locals who let them win the first game then wipe the floor with them. I opt to meditate on the beach scene and laugh at a five-year-old German boy who runs screaming towards the land as a wind surfer approaches the beach at high speed. The boy is not familiar with their stopping technique which involves hopping around the mast on the bow side, flipping the sail and dropping it into the sea. It’s cocktail hour by now. A guitar is produced. Homemade fire water (Tomasino grappa made by the father of Simone and Stefano), is poured into tiny plastic tumblers and consumed. Songs are partially and badly sung. It’s time to leave the men to their manly endeavours which at this moment consists of getting plastered. I ask to be taken to the boat and Ugo obliges, borrowing the clubhouse outboard (we only have tiny plastic paddles for our blow up dinghy). Clean up lunch dishes, make dinner of lemon chicken with mushroom, peppers, garlic and fresh tomato spaghetti. Just before sunset I send the critical text message. Dinner is ready!

What then unfolds is like a silent movie. Three men slowly make their way from the clubhouse bar down the beach to the dinghy. It becomes obvious Simone is going to tow our little dinghy back to Renardo. But then I see Ugo has forgotten something. He returns to the clubhouse. Stuart waits in the water holding the dingy line while Simone starts the outboard motor. Minutes pass and Simone is becoming impatient circling about waiting. Five minutes more and Ugo returns. Stuart hands dinghy line to Simone who ties tiny dinghy onto outboard dinghy. Stu climbs into tiny dinghy and sits on the side while Ugo gets into the outboard zodiac. They start the caravan back to our boat and their laughter, as Stuart bobs about, reaches me over the waves. Why has he done that? He is drunk and in danger of falling into the sea and night is almost on us. I foresee unecessary drama but am impotent to do anything. Luckily Simone is not drunk, he approaches slowly and cautiously and Stuart and Ugo tumble onto the the duckboard laughing loudly. I thank Simone profusely and sincerely. Ugo claps him on his bare shoulder in that most macho of ways of showing affection to another man, inflicting pain. Our anchorage so close to the beach is not safe for overnight. We up anchor and move to the western end of the bay where it’s rocky and anchor with the entire length of chain out. We’re the only boat in the bay and about thirty metres from rocks. Ugo explains the physics of his decision but it’s a little unsettling being so close to rocks. By the time I’ve watched the sun set pink and red over land I am convinced we’re not likely to be blown onto shore. The men are ravenous. When they’ve had enough pasta and chicken Ugo asks for cake. Sorry, no cake. Biscuits? Sorry, no biscuits. Chocolate? Sorry, no chocolate. The only sweet thing we have is jam. Bread and jam satisfies his sugar tooth. I go up on deck to see the black night sky, only a few house lights twinkle on land and it is completely silent apart from the lapping of waves on the hull. It’s a strange sensation to feel so isolated. Everyone is early to bed. Stuart has claimed the spare aft cabin which will spare me his snoring.

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Ship’s Log Day Five – Thursday 18/9/2014:
I emerge from my cabin at 8:30am after a shower. Stuart is reading and Ugo is on his phone. Stuart confesses to a slight hangover. The only sign Hugo has indulged is that he eats bread and jam with his coffee. Itinerary today should follow a pleasant, standard formula. Lunch at anchor off a beach while Ugo makes pasta for lunch, then overnight back in a La Maddalena. Heavy weather is forecast for tomorrow and we need to reach Portisco by nightfall. Unfortunately a glitch occurs when Stuart takes his eye off the electric cord on the handheld anchor winch control and it wraps around the winch along with the chain. Progress stops. We still have a few metres of chain out but it’s no longer holding on the bottom. Chain cannot not go up or down. Ugo calmly assesses the situation, hands the helm to Stuart and instructs him to keep the boat well off the rocks while Ugo undoes the winch and together he and I untangle the cord by manually lifting the anchor chain. Anchor safely up we can proceed under motor towards La Maddalena harbour while Ugo lets the base manager know of our problem and the possibility that we may need mechanical assistance. He then tests for where the fault lies. The electrical cable in the cord is damaged. Between the two of them they effect a temporary repair that corrects the problem and we have a functioning anchor winch remote again. I had asked to go straight to La Maddalena and have the fault fixed but am overruled by the men who prefer to stick with the plan. Stu has his swim, rose wine on the foredeck in sunshine and the men cook lunch. Life is beautiful!

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We have so much leftover pasta I devise an experiment in seagull feeding behaviour. The eleven or so gulls won’t approach the saucepan set on the duckboard close to me so I test how far away it needs to be for them to approach it. With a rope tied to the floating saucepan I establish the critical distance is two metres. The dominant male gull, identifable by the marked yellow ring around its neck, stands on the rubber dinghy and after ten wobbly minutes or so it launches at the saucepan and makes off with a beakful. A few others follow suite but then they all move away. The pattern is repeated. The chicks never get a look in. Several gulls seem to concentrate on not letting others feed and one in particular spends the whole time vocalising. The men say they want to go sailing, funny that. Experiment prematurely concluded.

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Wind 24 knots southeasterly with persistent gusts. Ugo and Stuart have some fun with jib and full mainsail. Objects relocate themseves about the boat as she keels over. Playtime is over too soon as we approach La Maddalena harbour. Capitanerie staff in zodiac come out to greet us. It’s like being royalty when you sail with Captain Ugo. We have the same berth and the process of tieing up goes even more smoothly this time. Time for yoga and catching up on emails before on board shower and dinner at Restaurant Sottovento. This is Ugo’s favourite place for that most Sardinian of delicacies, roast suckling pig. Ugo has teased me about this all week and now they actually order it. But first they eat their way through plates of charcuterie, ravioli and cheeses from the mountains in the centre of Sardinia, served with a strong red Sardinian wine. Roberto, the manager, is experienced with vegans and we agree on a vegetable pasta followed by mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. Surprisingly the potatoes are cold and cooked with vinegar. The platter of pork with roast potatoes disappears quickly. The ambience is warm and relaxed and we feel we have experienced true Sardinian cuisine and hospitality. The bill has many euro deducted for no apparent reason. The Ugo effect. Once again Russian squillionaires have subsidised our meal.

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Ship’s Log Day Six – Friday 19/9/2014:
Rain in the night and a grey start. Ugo had promised to take us to his favourite breakfast cafe in the centre of old La Maddalena. Not a lot has changed since the first black and white post card pictures of La Maddalena which Ugo showed us. Croissant, cake and espresso is Ugo’s preferred breakfast, favourably served by a lithe blonde waitress. Once again our money is useless. The agenda for this morning is to rent two bicycles and cycle 6k across the causeway to Caprera Island to visit military hero and legendary seaman Giuseppe Garibaldi’s final home and pay our respects at the tomb of this citizen of the world and champion of revolutions wherever he could find them. Ugo wants to cook his special local pasta dish for our lunch so sets off to buy ingredients.

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Ten euro each rents us a newish upright road bicycle with a basket. The route is clear and in twenty minutes we are climbing through a pine forest to the gates of Garibaldi’s house, now a national monument. With typical Italian organisation, witnessed from Sicily to Sardinia, an odd kind of logic is at work to manage different queues of waiting tourists who have bought their five euro entry tickets. Only twenty people are allowed through for each compulsory thirty minute guided tour (in Italian but we are given a double sided information sheet in English). Since we are just two people we manage to queue jump and soon find ourselves in Garibaldi’s modest stables, bedroom and kitchen. The features of his home are well recorded. What struck me particularly is the large painting of his first wife, the heroic Brazilian Anita, which takes pride of place in the dining room. Anita is almost bare breasted with hair flowing in the wind. Imagine his third wife Francesca having those eyes gazing down on her every meal time. More poignant is the bed in the salon arranged to enable the 75-year-old dying Garibaldi to gaze out to sea. A very full corner cupboard with its many tiny medicine bottles speaks volumes about his ailments in his declining years.

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Coffee at a picnic spot with cafe in the pine forest in the company of other cyclists gave us time to mull over what we had seen. Quick shower and Ugo’s lunch of thick spaghetti with fresh tomato, basil, garlic and olive oil accompanied by a green salad and more Sardinian red wine is a fitting final lunch on board together.

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Tonight we’ll drink champagne and toast to a very special and memorable week with Captain Ugo. A more affable, knowledgeable, resourceful and kind skipper you would be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world. On top of that he is an excellent chef. We are glad the winds brought us together in Sardinia and hope to sail with him again.

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2 Responses to “Sailing Costa Smeralda, Sardinia and South West Corsica with Captain Ugo on ‘Renardo’”

  1. George & Heather September 21, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Hi Nothing on TV tonight so have entertained ourselves on two weeks of your blogs – wonderful. Been busy moving house (rental) until ours is ready. Take care and no need to say enjoy yourselves. See Scotland is still part of the Union!
    George and Heather

    • Sharon Tickle September 21, 2014 at 10:57 am #

      Goodness, another move! Hope George’s hop didn’t compain too much. Yes we are having even more fun but separately now as Stu is walking bits of Mt Blanc and I start flamenco classes (again) with Andres tomorrow. Cheers to GB.Sxx

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