“In 1768 a bare-breasted Tahitian girl climbed from her canoe to a French ship under the hot-eyed gaze of 400 French sailors who had not seen any woman at all for over six months.  She stepped to the quarterdeck where, pausing at a hatchway, she slipped the flimsy cloth pareu from her hips, and stood utterly naked and smiling at the men. Down went the anchor, and in that moment the myth of romantic Tahiti was conceived. Like Venus rising from the waves – that was how the naked girl was described by the captain of the ship, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the first Frenchman in Tahiti, who believed he had discovered heaven on earth “…   Paul Theroux


Browsing the streets of Papeete, we met Frederica, the waitress from the Le Café des Negociants’ were we had so enjoyed our first night in town. She was an engineer on a French Navel vessel, a charming girl, not to be trifled with.  She cautioned us on the markets area after nightfall as rouges and ruffians abound.  Papeete is not the most attractive town especially when the light recedes, the buildings are shoddily shuttered and in our time there this was further highlighted with strikes and rumours of strikes, the streets were littered and scented with the uncollected rubbish.  Dawn ushers improvement when an air of  French colonialism emerges. In the colourful fruit market traditionally dressed women and beautiful girls with garlands in their hair, trade from vibrant stalls.  This market was the busiest place in town from 06.00 to 15.00, some of the dealers from either necessity or security slept beneath their stalls at night.


After customs clearance and some restocking, our expedition to fill the gas bottles developed into an amazing affair, by dingy across the commercial harbour, climbing up ladders in locked docks lifting canisters with ropes ducking out through holes in fences, darting across busy road junctions to get to the filling plant.  Then all repeated backwards with much heavier cylinders. A further chase all over town to get our visa extension, we were sent from pillar to post and around again.  The service providers and the authorities go out of their way to make things easy for the cruising yachtsman!


However, all is made up by a night of entertainment in the town hall for the sailors, provided gratis by the Tahitian Tourist Board.  First, we gather on the steps of the Hotel de Ville for the group photo and then upstairs for the party – great food, Tahitian wine and a blessing of the sailors, any scepticism of skipper was quickly banished by the form of blessing which was in the traditional mode, superb drumming and dancing. Added to this was a chance to catch up with friends made along the way and meet some new. The skipper had lent fellow sailors on s/y Scream a copy of Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” it was returned on the night.  Simply carrying the book around attracted a great deal of attention, people exclaiming “that is the most amazing book” “this book changed my life” etc. I enjoyed the ensuing conversations as to how much Prof. Dawkins had penetrated the sailing masses; it was a delight to converse with the literati of the sailing world.


19th June; Pylades is part of an organised rally from Papeete to the neighbouring island of Moorea. We elected to take a fine gentleman from the Ministry of Tourism on board. He spoke fluent English and had been a sailing instructor in France. We have a reasonable start amongst the fleet of 35 yachts and in very light airs pull away from the bulk of the fleet. In the channel the wind picks to 20knots, in a 3 meter swell we power away.  As the reefs of Moorea come abeam, williwaws of 30knots come rushing down from the clouded peaks making us grossly over canvassed, with only a few miles to go, 8knots on the clock and in flying spray we rush towards the pass. At the party after, many and mostly ‘wives’ were asking why no reefs were being taken in such conditions as normally would happen, answer:  macho of boys out playing, in sight of all the other boats, who would reef first?


Further machismo later at the party, a group of stunning local girls accompanied with powerful quality drumming dance on the beach. With the smoke of the barbeques drifting through, their sensuous dancing and meagre attire has every male riveted to the spot.  Some perhaps feeling culturally challenged as in a more European society men watching girls of that age dancing beautifully might be helping police with their enquires!  The following day though  dark and wet does not deter the festivities too much, canoe races with mixed locals and visiting sailors six man crews, some managed to capsize adding much to the entertainment.


21st June; a routine inspection of the anchor which was well set brought an encounter with two spotted eagle rays, amazing water flyers. A puffer fish was grazing in the debris being dislodged by the movement of our anchor chain. Later, snorkelling, we are a bit stunned to find ourselves in company with many stingrays and sharks numbering around ten, who, thankfully, mind their own business and pass by – a first for K in encountering sharks, she admitted later that her heart beat was a lot faster than normal but safely back on Pylades delighted in the experience.


24th June; Dingy to Papetoai village to post cards, on the way  we pay a visit to the The Road  - a South African  yacht heading home - they had been boarded by the Duane’s (Customs) most powerful vessel and a big pow wow arose when their parrot “Rubbish’ was found on board, it transpired his papers were not in order ! The Duane stated that ‘ze bird must go !’, the skipper, forceful in his retort, said they would have to take him first !! … the Duane retreated to consult a higher court, days later they returned, Rubbish would not be shot .. he is a fully legal guest of French Polynesia !!   


We set out walking to the Belvedere, a high point with a supposedly magnificent view of the islands, without hitching we were picked up by a woman from Biarritz  - got a lift all the way to the top where there is indeed a great view down to the two bays and conversations with many and varied folk who made the fatal  mistake of asking us did we come by passenger ship or air, dear o dear!  Hiking back down through the woods was fantastic, plunging into cool mountain streams amongst other things. At one of the many archaeological sites encountered, we meet an archaeologist whose explanations on the rites and religion in the old society added to the intrigue of our walk.  One of the striking things learned was the role played by the bow and arrow – its use was allowed only for sacred games and ritual and not for any warfare, as it was considered  to be ‘too dangerous’. Only direct hand to hand fighting using clubs was allowed, this would of course was to be a disaster in any conflict with the coming armed Europeans.


 26th June; on beach for Pierre of Victoria a pot luck party, K makes a first class baked peach desert. We never get a spoonful, Skipper plays the box and engages in séan nós singing, previously unheard of amongst the other nationalities, they think we are brill (in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king!).


2nd July; 2 weeks we stayed on Moorea anchored in the clearest cleanest water in a depth of 4 metres. Our day commences with a visit to a tiny magasin to collect pre-ordered baguettes, then off snorkelling for an hour or so and back to Pylades for breakfast.  Exploration trips in the dingy to other bays including Cooks Baie which together with Baie d’Opunohu (where Pylades was anchored) are probably the two bays which have come to represent the sailor’s idea of Polynesia. Our dingy, a  ‘Honwave’ 2.7 metres with a Yamaha 4hp, 4 stroke engine has been our constant workhorse in these islands where marinas are very few and anchoring a daily event, thus far it is terrific, however, we note the majority of yacht tenders are sporting at least 15 hp engines!!!  Must admit given the distances one travels to snorkelling spots and at times into towns from anchorages, it would be a good idea to power up.


We were sad to lift anchor and leave Moorea heading into the night for our voyage to Huahine in the Leeward Society Islands, some 90 miles away – our night sail was planned so as to arrive after sunrise for the entrance through the pass to Huahine.  Some cross swells at first gave an uncomfortable ride but all eases back to a fine sail, at dawn the island dominates the horizon together with rest of the leeward isles stretching out to the striking beauty of Bora Bora and beyond.


3rd July; Failing to anchor on a few attempts at the town of Fare in Huahine, a trip line is set and we wrap our chain around a coral head, not environment friendly but the coral head was dead. We are invited aboard Puppy for drinks with the Russians Natasha and Anatolav who are searching the world for a business opportunity, they had been reported as lost at sea by the Russian press, Natasha had to ring home to reassure her mother that they were still alive.  The next day sees us hiking into the hills and walking countless archaeological sites. These sites are not particularly old in European terms only dating back 1350 years, the demise of their power happening with the arrival of the ‘big ships’. Reports from the first missionaries were that the culture spent an inordinate amount of time in worship, ritual and sacrifice, perhaps the seeds of their own destruction.


7th July; move south about 7 miles to Avea Bay, a beautiful white sand beach, but a deep 13M and gusty anchorage. Snorkelling is the order of the day, chasing the multicoloured denizens of the shallows.  On the 11th July a ninety two percent eclipse of the sun occurred reaching its maximum cover at 08.30, a bright sunny morning was transformed into an eerie twilight that silenced the birds, we got our best views by pointing the binoculars at the sun and projecting the image to a white paper, when the light returned the cocks ashore went berserk ‘two dawns!”. Following that excitement sail is set for the island of Raiatea, 22 miles to the west a fine wind sees us through the pass of Teavapiti with roaring breakers at both sides; we tie at Municipal Marina at Utaroa.


A few days are spent here taking on water, clothes washing; all is free! We take on supplies in the local fairly good supermarkets in the exceptionally dull town. On the eve of Bastille Day we are made aware of a growing rift between the local population of Polynesia and La Belle France.  “If you are arrested for a crime, it will be by a white French Gendarme, you will be tried by a white French judge, sent to jail under a white French warden, the white French Gendarme are armed, the local municipal police are not” and so it went on.  Bastille Day parade, celebrated under the name of the festival of Heiva  by the native population, was very lively with music, dancing  and colourful floats, at the rear were four huge jeeps flying American flags : was some sinister element being expressed here, a new protector, skipper felt a little chill.


Parade over, we set off to climb to the top of Mont Tapioi, about a 1000’ high overlooking reefs and out to the adjoining island of Tahaa, a well worthwhile walk we are told. As we wandered around seeking the track to the hill we were hailed by two men behind a robust steel fence who recognised we were lost. After exchanges in our pidgin French and their equivalent English we were set right.  We noticed the robust steel fence was around the local jail and our guides were the inmates, even the imprisoned were charming! That evening we plan to dine out in one of the local restaurants, we get as far as sitting down and perusing the menu but the electronic drummer, again, sees us off.


15th July.  Saw us give a hand to the skipper of  an Australian boat to sail around  the island and lift his boat out in the Careenage Marina, his future sailing plans being uncertain.  His wife had collapsed on board whilst they were at sea, he put out a Pan Pan call and was directed to Raiatea where there is a hospital. The prognosis was a stroke, she was flown to Papeete and from there back to Australia. They were sailing home following 16 years cruising; a distressing and sad experience.  Latest news on his wife is that she is making very good progress.


 16th July; we head southeast to visit the great Marae Taputaputea the most important archaeological site in French Polynesia. Arriving at our destination with the wind behind us, we creep down the bay not very happy as the anchoring depths are all over 25M.  The depths slowly rise to about 20M, suddenly its shoal water ahead we turn too late, with a dreadful crunch we are on the reef.  The engine even at full revs fails to move us.  The main chain and anchor is loaded into the dingy which thankfully is under tow and we lay out every bit to wind.  The windlass constantly trips off as it is being asked to take loads it is not designed for, still no budge. We then prepare to run off the second anchor with far more rope and pull the mast over with a winch. While working at that, Pylades, under the tension of the main anchor and the pounding of the thankfully small waves, slides back into deep water - we are off!  Diving on the hull later there is quite extensive paint gouging but no structural damage could be found.  We had been particularly concerned about the rudder but all appeared well. Over double wine rations that evening the many lessons learned were discussed.


A problem with the Society Islands  which we had not considered or adequately prepared for were the depths of most of the anchorages, exceeding 25meters or more and if one winds around a coral or rock at that depth one either looses the anchoring gear or calls in a diver for FR5000. All skippers, unlike this one should not just snorkel but be dive as well.


Our last night on Raiatea was spent with Olivier, a French corsair look alike and a fantastic banjo player, he calls to Pylades looking for a tune !! we play, his knowledge of Irish tunes is vast, he tells us of his cruising down through the Caribbean with his wife and two very young children playing in cafes in exchange for pizza and beer, this with his father and 12 other musicians…. a great story.  I first played with Olivier on his Catamaran in Panama – tomorrow we go in different directions and will probably not meet on this trip again but perhaps back in Kinvara as he intends to visit Co. Clare in search of ‘The session’.


Sunday morning 18 July visit Evie and exchange information on anchoring spots on the next islands – she sails her 41ft boat single handed between nieces, she  had just celebrated her 70th birthday. Goodbye to Raiatea and too lazy to stick up the sail, we motor the 3 miles across to the island of Tahaa which lies within the same coral reef as Raiatea.  Pick up a mooring and no sooner have tidied all the bits when we get a visit from the Richard, owner of the moorings asking us to leave – it helped that he was so polite and apologetic. Telling us he was overbooked and we were welcome to return the next day when he would buy us a drink.  On we went in search of a suitable anchorage, which we found on the western side of this, again, beautiful island, anchoring in 20M in Baie Puamau, famous for its snorkelling and coral gardens.


We circumnavigated Tahaa over the next 3 days, sometimes finding a mooring  and hanging there for the night, one such mooring had us close to a luxury hotel with superb snorkelling in coral gardens – these hotels, built out onto the water on stilts comprise single storey suites isolated from each other, usually palm thatched and only becoming offensive by their repetition,  are 99% occupied by young American honeymoon couples who pay way above reasonableness to be here, we ventured to the bar for sundowners, two by two they arrived, undressed to the nines, silently sipping their cocktails and staring into the sunset, attempts at conversation was met with silent smiles.  We were guessing by the chemistry or lack of it how long these unions might last – sad cynics!.


23rd July; having finished our circumnavigation of Tahaa we head to the Taravana Yacht Club. The moorings of the very affable  Richard and his yacht club were free but on the condition that one attended at the bar in the evening and bought a few drinks, compulsory drinking, what hardship. A fine place it was too, TV free, bounteous blessings. Richard to his word stood us a drink on our first night in, added to this his delightful company and stories, like how he bought a small boat in Mexico and with a friend sailed to this island, thus dodging the draft for Vietnam. They used to call looking for me, my mother would say “ he’s somewhere surfing in Mexico, smoking stuff, if you guys find him tell him to ring his mama”   His stories were endless and interesting.  A sound guy who welcomed well and ran the best bar we met since leaving Dingle.


Shopping is something one might oft take for granted?  So running down on supplies we decide to leave our sheltered mooring at Richards with Pylades and cross over the four miles to the supermarket at Uturoa.  On arrival the wind is blowing twenty knots directly on to the dock. Noting the south end is calmer we go in and on tying discover that is for fuelling only. We have to move and as there is a boat behind us ! we spring ourselves off, this entails taking a line from the bow to a dock bollard at the aft of the boat, motor forward and with the rudder hard over slowly turn the stern off the dock, the strain on the springer is enormous and the bow grinds into the, thankfully timber dock, with the stern about 80 degrees off the dock we slam into reverse, slip the line and are off. We retie further back the dock where it is much rougher, Kay does high speed shopping, the skipper keeps the fenders from popping and as we are battered contemplates the parentage of the engineer who positioned the dock facing flat on to the prevailing trades. With the shopping loaded, and the wind now at 22 knots we again spring off the dock, the engine requires maximum power forward to spring off.  If the wind went any higher that system might perhaps not work. We hoist our headsail and fly back to the comfort of the mooring and a well deserved cup of coffee.


27th July; having enjoyed a very social few days at Richards we leave Tahaa and head out through the Pass Paipai relishing in a delightful sail to Bora-Bora, this to be our last landfall in French Polynesia.  We enter the pass at Bora Bora and take a mooring at the Yacht Club.  Again, anchoring near the town is in some great depths of water so moorings are in demand.  This yacht club has a fair deal, FPF 5000 (about €43) per week.   Over looking the moorings are two. 7” guns put in place by the US after Pearl Harbour, we walked up the very rutted track to the emplacement, returning down we encounter a jeep with seven extremely large locals aboard.  The jeep cannot make it up, taking a very punishing ten minutes to turn, we suggest  as they are quite near the gun position they could walk up -they are greatly amused by the notion but no way and bump their way down.  Perhaps to be seen to walk is to lose face, the culture is very 4WD oriented, and a bit like our own culture, the size of the vehicle confers a related status. However, they are generous with their cars; on all the islands we hitched we got a lift almost immediately.


30th July; one of our projects was to climb the twin peaks of Bora Bora, our request at the tourist office for a map of the trail was met with the response  ‘you cannot go, you must have a guide, you must inform the Gendarme, it is very dangerous’ etc. So, we sought and got the info elsewhere and with two other sailor men, went for it. Rain showers ensure the going is soft and we engage in a great deal of mud sliding, the route had eight fixed rope pitches and was even a bit technical at times, one of the pitches being very exposed. Over seven hours to the peaks and back and full on from the moment go, we return covered in mud and smiles, perhaps the highlight of our island visit.    


Vaitape, the main town of Bora Bora is a ramshackle collection of makeshift buildings, mainly gift shops, scattered along a stretch of road, along with a couple of supermarkets, banks and cafes,  Tourism is the business of Bora Bora,.  There is no depth of atmosphere in the town, as is the case in most of the towns in French Polynesia. The dogs and cocks of the islands are a notable presence, each family seem to possess many and the night is punctuated by the constant howling and the morn by incessant crowing.   We are told they eat dog and lots of chicken in Polynesia. What makes us linger here is the sea with its many colours, the night sky displays, and the underworld below the sea surface with its colourful busy fish, its scary biguns and the wonder of its coral. The people are welcoming to the tourist and sailor who will find much to hold them here.


8th August; all ready to leave for points west but a new factor begins to enter our lives the ITCZ- the intertropical convergence zone- complete with fronts and shear lines etc. No longer can we rely on the trades to blow steady, but this monster comes up from the south with surfeits of thunderstorms, 50kt gusts and all sorts of evil deeds. What we back home might just call bad weather. So as the weather looks disturbed to the west we prepare our ship but postpone our departure.  Tales of a 52ft Catamaran Anne that turned turtle 200 miles west of Niue also focuses the attention, apparently the combination of a large sea and 60knots of wind. The two persons on board were rescued but as far as we know, the hull drifts on, Pacific indeed! (see photo of salvaged vessel) .


13th August; we get a lecture on board Jenny a mighty 58’ Hoek design from Norway from an ex whaler, skipper Jan who also supplied some weather software programmes. This couple had come to the Pacific via the Chilean channels. The new software allows us to download all sorts of international weather information via the SSB and pactor modem. Next evening we have a BBQ at the yacht club, a most pleasant  time was had with great conversations of whaling, and the war in Norway, climbing and song writing  accompanied by bursts of music, singing and poetry. Jan’s cousin was Patrick Dalzel-Job who’s book ‘From Artic Snow to Dust of Normandy’ he lent us (well worth reading) he was reputed to be the model for the James Bond character.


16th August; final stock up and taking on of water and at 12.30 we exit into light wind and a 2.5M confused sea.  Our destination, Palmerston Island in the north Cook Islands, approx 660 miles west. However, as day follows into night conditions improve with an increase in wind and moderation in seas.  Next day we pass north of the island of Maupihaa at 7knots and for once the air is full with the sight and sound of seabirds.  This 4x6 mile atoll, had been inhabited until 1998 when cyclone Martin swept through and devastated most of its vegetation and houses, it now lies uninhabited. Kay gets a nasty burn on her arm from a rack that flew out of the oven as the boat was lurching about. Sprays and dressings are applied, two days later with no obvious healing in progress, antibiotics are called for. 


20th August; Cooker troubles intensify as the oven fails to keep lighting, baking bread is tried in the pressure cooker, not very successful.  The gooey mass goes to feed the fishes. The Force Ten cooker, an expensive bit of kit, now has but one burner running with any force, a major refurbishment is called for. A short while later the main sheet horse attachment suddenly parts, a makeshift repair with a shackle is put in place, yet more refurb is called for. A grey wind shifty day gives way to a fine evening and the best ever example of the green flash as the sun sets. Conditions must be just right for this, the sun must be setting into a cloudless horizon and in a split second as the last of the orb disappears a vivid green flash is seen. Must dig out the scientific explanation for that.


21st August; the coconut trees of Palmerston Atoll appear on the horizon. In 1862 a Lancashire man, William Marsters settled here with his three Penrhyn (another of the Cook Islands) wives, he fathered 26 children divided the island into sections for each of the three families and established strict rules about intermarriage.  67 of the descendents, the sixth generation, now inhabit the atoll. A boat approaches and a man introduces himself as Bob Marsters, he says he will be our host during our stay and shows us a mooring to pick up. Pylades cannot enter the lagoon as all the passes are shallow and the depths outside are very deep for safe anchoring. Custom clearance, Immigration and agricultural inspection are all carried out on board Pylades, it being a very friendly and painless procedure during which a whale blew and sounded just up from the boat and a turtle swam past. Our host then returned and informing us that we will be picked up at 11.30 for lunch and an island tour. Due to the strength of the current, the tiny passes and the constantly changing surf breaks, it was strongly recommended that we do not use our own dinghy to enter the lagoon.


In his aluminium skiff we whiz at full tilt towards a very small gap in the breaking surf and zigzag through the pass skimming coral heads by inches, we swing across the lagoon and very abruptly run the skiff into the side of a most beautiful shelving beach. We are introduced to his wife, three daughters and son. The table, which is outdoors but roofed from the sun is piled with a magnificent array of fish, chicken and accompanying dishes. The father issues orders like “set table”  “bring food’ to his daughters and wife and indicates that our women folk could help, we are thinking this could end badly. But there was something in the attitude of the children that indicated they were humouring him and that underneath he was a genial giant trying to impress.  The sailors are invited to dine first while the family sit behind until the guests are satiated, all a bit unnerving. There was no payment of any kind requested for this hospitality, but prior to arrival we had been informed through the radio nets that no supply ship had called in seven months. We, thus forewarned by the power of long range radio, had arrived with bags of staples like flour, pasta, popcorn which was particularly well received, also rum, petrol, cleaning utensils and books.


The eldest daughter Tahia, an impressive young lady, takes us on a leisurely walkabout of the island. Explaining history, showing us the new school, only in the last few years has this been established on a formal basis, there are about 35 children attending, more than half of the population.  On being questioned about the intermarriage rules Tahia  says” I can’t marry my brother’. One defect resulting from such close breeding was a recurring eye problem, which if not acted on could lead to blindness. During our tour we were introduced to many other families and one Dan who was from NZ! living here for the past six months researching for his PhD on the social structures and fabric of the island, it should be amazing reading.


After our tour further light refreshments were served.  Before we were brought back to the boat we were asked if the next day we would join the family for church in the morning prior to having Sunday lunch with them. They, as was the much married original William Marsters, were strict Presbyterians. He said it would only be for a half hour.  So the next morn at 9.00 to church, the dresses of the women were amazingly colourful with huge flower adorned hats. Our host was instructing how all the women were to sit at one side and the men on the other; however we noted that the female school principal and other local women appeared to make a point of breaking this little taboo!  The church was far less populated than expected, the singing was most unusual and was led by a very elderly lady with an extremely high pitched off key voice hitting notes that I would believe had only been found before by BØrk.


The ministers arrived well into the proceedings and one of them delivered an astonishing story about a fire breathing, sword wielding god, who took the side of David, smiting the philistines. The whole procedure did greatly strengthen the resolve of the skipper to pursue his philosophical writings. Thankfully the host never asked us for our opinions on the service, we were then provided with another great lunch. The skipper played the box. One of the sailors preparing to go snorkelling was reminded that God’s day did not permit that activity.


The whole procedure was repeated on Monday, this time the skipper was requested to bring his box to the school.  Here he was met with the sight of the entire assembly, about 35 children, two teachers and the principal, all dressed neat as pins and all looking at an empty chair. The location of Ireland was explained and its climate, tunes were played, Irish traditional music was explained. More tunes, then getting into his stride advising that they were at the age to start learning music  Many of the children then got a ‘go’ of the box, the whole experience was about 40minutes after  loads of claps and waves we finally fled the school. Whatever next!


Kay’s hand injury prevented her snorkelling in the lagoon so alone I went into a pure paradise of coral, myriads of reef fish and threateningly large groupers. Our host had constantly being saying how this island was so relaxed, always walk never run etc. With all the meetings, tours and lunches there was never a moment. The children were beautiful and would cuddle up to you, telling us things like ‘when I grow up I am going to be an actress on the stage”.  They have no television, they have DVDs and games like basketball and ‘dodging’ are very popular with all ages of children partaking.  Lunch was today supplemented with food cooked by the sailors. After lunch all the island host family and ourselves were invited aboard Jenny. These were parting drinks and after an emotional farewell to all, sail was set for Niue approx.400 miles west.  If one did nothing else in the Pacific except to spend some time with the people of Palmerston Atoll the journey would be worth it for the astonishing emotional rollercoaster ride. We most certainly will not forget our visit.



24th August; rolling along in a Pacific lit by the full moon, we recover our composure and plough west. After two days of delightful sailing the wind and sea picked up to about  30knots and 2 to 3 meter swells, three reefs in the main seemed a bit much but the self steering gear loved it and we ran on at a steady 6 knots. On the morning of the 26th August the island of Niue, the smallest independent state in the world, composed entirely of coral emerges out of the scattering darkness. As we pick up a mooring a humpback whale breaches seaward of us in a cloud of white spray.






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Posted: 12:45:02 AM - 9/7/2010

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