Taste of Summer in April

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It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.

We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.

Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.

The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.

Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.

Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.

This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.

I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.

Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice.  The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation.  Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.

If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.

Nearly Perfect Weather

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decemberblueswm

After two rainy but still nice summers, we have enjoyed a stretch of remarkable dry weather. In the last twenty-six days we have only gotten two tenths of an inch of rain. Before that we measured 38.5 inches of rain since June 1 or a little over 2.1 inches per week during the whole summer. Even that pales to 2015 when our rain total by early October was 43.25 inches or 2.4 inches per week.

Even as the light rain comes down early on the morning of November 4, the expectation is that it will clear this morning after minimal precipitation.  Then there will be another week of dry weather for everyone to enjoy.

Fall of 2015 ended up being great but so far this year’s fall weather has been even better. I suspect it has surpassed almost everyone’s dreams. While it was summer-like and almost too warm for a while, the last week of weather was perfect.  The fall gardens which were doing well early have recovered from Mathew and we are even catching fish which puts everyone on the Crystal Coast in a good mood.

I have been out on the river twice in the last five days and both times have been a joy. Saturday I brought home a nice black drum and a speckled sea trout eighteen inches long. I also returned to the river two fifteen to sixteen inch red drum. Thursday, November 3, I did not even get in my kayak until 4:45 PM and after twenty minutes of paddling I dropped anchor. I caught another sixteen inch red drum on my first cast. In a few minutes, I caught another slightly shorter one and on my way in, I caught one that was close to twenty inches. The net in the picture with the drum is sixteen inches across. Of course I caught the drum in my favorite spot out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak River. The only reason I stopped fishing was that I was running out of daylight.

Most of us living here on the coast move here to be close to the water. Still the great weather, abundance of blue skies and sunshine are also factors. Some folks come for the beach and there are others who come for either boating, kayaking, fishing or all of the above. I often joke that we should bottle our fall weather on the coast and bring it out in February during our short winter. The reality is that usually we get enough nice weather that it is not too hard to survive until spring warmth finds us.  Nice weather in October and into November is not unusual. We even get shorts weather sometimes in December. I usually find some warm weather for a January beach hike and some January boating. It does not take much magic winter warmth to get us through the sometimes icy end of winter.

Thoughts cold weather are still a long time off if you live here on the North Carolina coast. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beach before the winter winds. My more recent long hike over on the Point at Emerald Isle was October 20. The water was crystal clear and the air was summer-like.  Crystal clear waters are part of the heritage of the Crystal Coast. Waters like I saw on my last hike give credence to the area’s nickname.

If you have made it this far in the article, you likely have figured out that the best part of the beach season is far from over.  If you find the time, do your body and soul a favor and plan a fall trip to the Crystal Coast. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is perfect for fishing or even sticking your toes into it. There will still be some warm days, so enjoy them like those of us who live here do.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter early in November.

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Fall Waters

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White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

White Oak River near Raymonds Gut

The colors and the light have changed as we have moved into the fall season. While it is a subtle change, it is still very noticeable especially to photographers.

While we keep hearing that the weather is changing, the slightest taste of fall usually gets overwhelmed by the powerful sun that owns the North Carolina coast during September. The humidity leaves for brief periods then you open your door during midday and it feels like summer all over again.

It is still great beach weather and the water temperature remains close to 80F. Even as September draws to a close, my last hike at the Point on September 8, is still a fresh memory. The pictures that I took remind me of just how beautiful our beaches are here on the Crystal Coast. When you walk over on the Point, you enter a different world. While beach driving started September 15, I got my most recent hike in before the trucks started hitting the beach.  That meant that I had the far reaches of the beach almost to myself.

The hike which is shown on this map was a little over two miles. In the fall I try hike down to what is called Bird Island but I ran out of time, daylight, and energy on September 8. I am hoping to get back to the Point the first week in October. The highs are supposed to be in the low eighties or upper seventies. That will be perfect weather for hiking the beaches.

The weather folks keep promising us a front that is going to drop down and sweep out all the humidity. It seems to never quite make it to the Crystal Coast and now we have to keep our eye on Tropical Storm Mathew which has the possibility of swinging up the east coast and bringing more tropical air over us.

We have learned from past experiences to keep our eyes on the water. The last year or so, many areas, some not even on the coast (see Cedar Rapids, Iowa) are getting caught in torrential non-tropical storms that move slowly across the country. Last year areas of South Carolina were swamped. We were luckily only on the edge of that storm. Even with our area not in the bullseye, the storm gave us high waters and put an end to good weather for a while. Recently, Bertie County, which is north of the Crystal Coast, got nearly twenty inches of rain over three days. It caused severe flooding. Now as I write this Washington, DC is under a flood watch and might get eight inches of rain in two to three days.

The good news is that even in years like last year we usually do get a great stretch of weather.  In the fall as the tropics settle down, we get to really enjoy the area. Fall is without a doubt my favorite time on the Southern Outer Banks. The fish are biting, the crowds have dispersed, and the humidity is a lot lower. On top of that the water is still warm.

I managed to get out in my kayak last weekend. That is where I took the picture at the beginning of the post. It was great to be on the water. The previous time that I went out, I felt like the frog in a pot of gradually heating water. I was out very early in the morning but as the heat of the day caught up with me, there was no relief since the water was still in the upper eighties. Fortunately those water temperatures are gone and a kayak ride is back to being a very pleasant experience.

If you have the flexibility to visit this time of year, just watch the weather and pick your time carefully to really enjoy the treats of the Crystal Coast. As you can see from the beach pictures, there is plenty of room for visitors.

If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn your vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter out before Halloween.

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Glassy Water Morning

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Calm water on the White Oak River

Calm water on the White Oak River

There are few things that I love as much as kayaking on the White Oak River. I usually manage to kayak ten months out of the year. With a river as beautiful as the White Oak it is hard to stay off the water.

Raymonds Gut which flows into the White Oak is in our backyard. Kayaking is just a matter of moving my kayak from our dock to the break in the marsh grass and sliding into the water.

Early season or spring kayaking has more than its fair share of wind. Sometime in May after I have had my fair share of choppy water, I usually start dreaming about some glassy water kayaking. Finding those beautiful mornings even in summer is often illusive. That is especially true if you have a full time day job.

This year it has seemed especially tough. I have been on the water by 6AM a couple of times with my skiff but neither of those days would have been special in a kayak. Even July which is usually a good month for water as smooth as glass has not been kind. Part of the problem is that July 2016 has been a particular warm one. The heat has been with us since early in the month and has kept shady spots popular along the Crystal Coast. The excessive warmth has also enhanced the winds.

The heat wave we endured for the last two weeks of July 2016 has been as bad as we can remember from our ten years on the North Carolina coast. While heat can be tolerated if your kayak is in cool water, water in the upper eighties and midday summer heat together enhance the conveyor belt of wind that is part of our lives on the coast. That has been the case for much of July 2016. We have had plenty of 15MPH or greater winds with the White Oak River often whipped up to whitecaps by the midday. That makes it hard if you sometimes sneak a late lunch hour for kayak fishing.

Still people like me who kayak and fish are extremely persistent. A friend recently told me that the fish seemed to surviving the heat by having a feeding spell just as the sun was first hitting the water. Friday evening, July 29, I got all my tackle ready and made plans to get up by 5:30AM and be on the water by 6:45AM. Things went relatively well except as is sometimes the case, the anticipation of my trip kept me awake until 1:30AM which means 5:30AM came quickly.

After springing out of bed, everything went well and I even reset the coffee pot for my wife to 8AM and had the newspaper on her placemat ready for her as I have been doing the last forty-plus years. Then I slipped my kayak into the water through the marsh grasses by our dock and paddled out towards the river. I was not surprised that the heat was still with us. The air temperature was close to 80F even that early in the morning. Fortunately the sun hung behind the clouds and there was no breeze. That was a two edged sword.

No breeze meant that I could count on some calm waters and that I would not be fighting the wind and the current. It also meant there was no breeze to cool me. Still it was a great morning just to be on the river and I did manage to land a short red drum and a short flounder. Red drum or the puppy drum that we chase are magnificent fish. Though you can keep the drum at 17 inches, I will not bring one home unless it is 20 or 21 inches long. Once they get over 27 inches they have to be thrown back.

Besides catching some fish, the reason it was so nice on the river was the paddling was as easy as it has been this year. The sun did come out but the clouds were not quite right for one of those drop dead beautiful days. It was still very nice on the river. The heat unfortunately was still lurking in the air and the river water was far from cool. As I started paddling home around 10AM the breeze that started to pick up was a lifesaver especially since the sun was working hard to get the temperature back up over 90F.

Since I paddling against the tide, the slightly over one mile journey back to my home dock was good exercise and I was happy that I had brought along a bottle of water. When I entered our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, the cooling breeze disappeared and the afterburners on the sun seemed to flip on in an attempt to cook me. By the time I relaxed in the shade under our dock as I waited for my wife to hook up my Acura SUV and pull my kayak up through the marsh grass, there was not a dry thread on my t-shirt.

Even so, I will be plotting my next kayaking adventure right after I have a nap to catch up on some sleep.

If  you are thinking of a vacation, we are now on the downslope of summer.  Of course fall is stunning here on the Southern Outer Banks.   If you need help planning your visit to the Crystal Coast, you are in luck.  Our five-star-rated travel guide, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide, can help turn a vacation into a truly memorable one..  Even if you have been here a number of times, I have some secrets to share about the area beaches. This is a recent review published in Island Review by the owner of the Books and Toys Shop at Emerald Plantation.

The Kindle version of the travel guide is $3.99 but it is free if you have Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle version includes over 100 pictures and extras such as printable maps and a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  In order to make the paperbacks more affordable, we limited the pictures to sixty-six and the maps to nine.  There are no recipes in the paperbacks. However, if you buy one of the paperbacks from Amazon, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for only $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells both versions and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our last newsletter went out July 3 and it can be read on the web, Beach is Summer’s Heart.  We hope to have our next newsletter out in early August.

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Another Beach Fourth of July

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Shallow waters near Swansboro, NC

Shallow waters near Swansboro, NC

This is our tenth year living on the North Carolina coast. The Fourth of July is pretty special on the coast. If you have a place already booked, you will likely spend some time on the beach, maybe watch some of the area’s fireworks, and have some local seafood. Most of those things are easily accomplished once you make it across the bridge to Emerald Isle or one of the other Crystal Coast beach or river towns.

With so many coastal Fourths under our belts, we have seen all the fireworks we need and tend to stay fairly close to home. Like many area residents we have a pretty good idea about what to attempt this weekend and what might not be worth the challenge.

Even many of the people who live here and should know better are drawn to put their boats in the water this coming weekend. When I took a run down the White Oak to Swansboro on June 29, I was struck by the lack of boats. The Intracoastal Waterway, Swansboro Harbor, and the White Oak River were all pretty well devoid of boat traffic. The picture at the top of post was taken June 30 in area where there is usually some boat traffic.

My skiff, a fishing buddy, and I were out early the morning of June 30th fishing the marshes near Swansboro. We saw almost no boats.  It will be our last trip to Swansboro until at least the middle of the week after the Fourth. The Fourth of July is when you will find the most boats on the water all year long.

I have learned that the closer you get to the Intracoastal Waterway in Swansboro this holiday weekend, the more boats that you will find. The boats are not the biggest problem. This next week is also the peak of the jet ski season and you can almost guarantee that someone will be hurt. So if you find me on the water, it will not be in the Intracoastal Waterway.

One of the places that rarely gets crowded even on the Fourth of July is the White Oak River. We also fished there this morning and managed to find a trout that came home for dinner.  If I can find a few hours without a lot of wind and with some blue skies, I will likely be back on the river this weekend in my kayak. There is nothing better than being on the water and if I fish the oyster rocks, I will have a natural barrier between me and any power boats and jet skis that happen to wander up river.

A remarkable stretch of beach weather stayed with us during the first three weeks of June. The only wrinkles during that time were some winds strong enough to get the ankle-defoliating sand moving one afternoon and some showers that cleared the beach late one afternoon last week. A little less than 6.2 inches of rain has fallen in June. However, all of it but .70 inches fell on two days between June 1 and June 7. The three weeks since have been dry with almost no rain in the last ten days except the less than one quarter of an inch of rain we got on June 28. That barely settled the dust. Last year we were much wetter with 7.75 inches of rain spread through June.

The seven day precipitation forecast continues to hint that at least part of this year’s Fourth of July week at the beach will be wetter than our recent stretch of dry weather. That does not mean the week will be a rainout. The way our weather works, we could get 2.5 inches of rain in an afternoon and the rest of the week could be dry. Coastal weather is even less predictable than inland weather.

Given the potential rain in the forecast, I have some things in mind that will still let me still enjoy the Fourth. My Saturday morning will be planned around the Emerald Isle EMS Pancake breakfast and the tides. I plan to be heading across the bridge before 8AM for my pancakes. If I can get back and on the river by 10:30AM on Saturday, I will be set to fish the falling tide. The winds are also forecast to be light on Saturday morning before picking up in the afternoon. The forecast is also calling for almost no chance of precipitation on Saturday morning.

After I am done my kayaking, I will likely take it easy for most of the day, but if the bridge does not get plugged up, I might try to go back to enjoy the grand opening of Goose Creek Growler Company located at 200 Mallard Drive on Emerald Isle. They make beautiful growlers (reusable beer containers) and have wonderful beer to go in them. Both our daughters were visiting this past weekend and we managed to polish off a couple of growlers. I know they are expecting a crowd, but a special cold beer on hot summer day is nice touch to the holiday.

If some rain does visit us this weekend, one place that I will likely avoid is Emerald Plantation Shopping Center. Check-in traffic will swamp the Food Lion parking lot anyway and experience has shown that people take shopping to another level when it rains at the beach. Last week we had some showers one afternoon and I let myself imagine that we might be able to have an early dinner at Shark’s Den restaurant in Emerald Plantation. I had wings on the brain since Tuesday is their wing special day. All it took was one pass through the parking lot near the restaurant to determine that there were no parking spaces at the Emerald Plantation Shopping Center. We reconsidered our foolishness and headed back to Swansboro and the Highway 55 Burgers and Shakes restaurant. It is one of the places we often retreat to when there are crowds on the beach. After I enjoyed a shrimp po’boy and my wife had a burger, we stopped by Piggly-Wiggly for some groceries. If you must have groceries this weekend, you should consider a visit to the Piggly-Wiggly in Swansboro. While it will be busy, it will not be as chaotic as either of the Food Lion stores or the Lowe’s Grocery store. If we go out to dinner on Saturday, we will likely drive twenty minutes to Fat Fellas in Newport instead of waiting in line at a local restaurant.

Sunday will start with church service at Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church. The Men of the Church are cooking hot dogs and hamburgers and visitors are welcome.  Drop by to worship with us and have lunch and some fellowship with one of the friendliest congregations around. If the weather is good Sunday or Monday, I will likely be back in my kayak on the river. If not there is always plenty to do around the house or in the garden between showers.  If the weather turns good, I might try to escape the crowds by going for a Point hike either early in the morning or late in the evening.

It is time for summer vacations and if you are coming to the Crystal Coast, do not forget our five-star-rated travel guide. Even if you have been here a number of times, I might have some secrets to share about the area beaches. We have a lot of changes in the restaurant scene and not everything new has great food.  Our Week at the Beach, the Emerald Isle Kindle version is $3.99  and includes extras such as a few of our recipes. Our completely updated 2016 version went live in late May.  Amazon also has the full color, 142 page 2016 paperback version for $19.99 and it is prime eligible. There is a black and white version available for $7.95.  If you buy one of the paperbacks, the Amazon matchbook program will let you get the Kindle version for $1.99.  If you want to purchase books locally in Emerald Isle, the Emerald Isle Town Office sells them and the black and white ones are also available at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  Color copies are $20 and black and white ones are $8.

Our next news letter will be out before just before July 4.

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Perfect White Oak River Morning

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White Oak River, Perfect Morning

White Oak River, Perfect Morning

Once you have enjoyed a perfect morning or a perfect afternoon on the river, you keep going back trying to grab another piece of perfection. The experience hooks you. Maybe it is the river seducing you.

For me it is just the pure relaxation that you can get from floating around between the oyster rocks on a blue sky day when the wind and tide conspire to make life easy on the river. Though I often use the word paradise to describe the Crystal Coast, do not be lulled into thinking that all days are like the one in the picture.

Sometimes those days are pretty hard to find even for those of us living here. That is especially so during the persistent winds that are common.  Still I am one of the lucky few who can look at his schedule and take an hour or two to go kayaking/fishing if things are not too busy at work. I might have to make up some work later in the evening, but that is a small price to pay if you hit one of those wonderful days on the White Oak River.

My kayak is rarely more than ten feet from the water and I just launch from our backyard. Depending on the wind and tide, I can paddle to the middle of the river in ten to fifteen minutes so there is no putting my kayak on a car and driving thirty minutes to get to water. We kayak nine to ten months out of the year depending on the water temperature.

The biggest enemy of kayaking on the coast in a big coastal river is wind. The more experience you have kayaking, the more wind you can handle. That is assuming you have a kayak that can also handle it. In the last ten years, I have kayaked exclusively in a small area of the White Oak River. I rarely go very much north of our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, and I have never kayaked south of Jones Island, the island at the bottom of the map. I know my part of the river very well, but even I can get beat up the wind and tide.

Wednesday May 11, I had a few hours off and there was hardly any wind in our inlet. However, I learned long ago that the lack of wind back at our house in the marsh means nothing when talking about wind on the river. I have also figured out the best way to understand what is happening on the river is to paddle out there and check it out. I have a couple of close fishing spots where I can usually wet a line even in tough conditions. I headed out Wednesday and I figured out the conditions before I got very far into the river. Still even with all the wind and waves, I was determined to fish a little. Three our four casts were all that I needed to decide that working my way back into Raymond’s Gut and fishing the marsh edges was the only logical course.

I did that and fished for twenty to thirty minutes without getting a touch so I headed back to my dock less than five minutes away. Thursday, the next day, during my morning walk around the boardwalk in our neighborhood, I took a couple of telephoto shots and determined the river might be a quieter on Wednesday afternoon.

Before I even considered my earlier experience, I was sliding my kayak in the water and heading out on another journey. From the attached map you can see my trip after I got in the river and turned on my GPS recorder. While it was by no means an easy paddle, it was beautiful out on the water and I was determined to get to my oyster rocks and fish. I got there, made one cast and the skies opened up.  A rainstorm that I thought was crossing the river at Stella had come downriver.  I was one wet fisherman by the time that I got back to the dock. Once I got inside our inlet, I stopped to take a picture. Instantly a new joke came to mind. “How do you give a kayak a bath.” The obvious answer of course is “to take it fishing and dry it off with a towel.”

I used a cloth to wring out a couple of inches of water in the kayak. It is good that I have a short memory. I’ll be back on the river chasing fish again this upcoming weekend. Often it takes two or three times to finally enjoy a nearly perfect day on the White Oak and and catch dinner. It is worth it because I love doing it.  The river is truly magical when you find that perfect combination of water, calm winds, blue skies and a slack tide.

I have no plans of giving up just because I got wet one kayaking trip. That is the first time I have been wet from rain while kayaking in over 23 years.  At least it was a warm rain, I have been soaked to the bone fishing on a skiff in late October when the rains will chill you to your bones.

It is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99.  Purchasers of the Kindle version can get a free update to 2016 version when we publish in  late May.  Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page 2014 paperback version for $24.95 and it is prime eligible. We are revising it in June.

If you have been waiting for my latest newsletter, it is going out before the end of this second weekend in May 2016. I want to offer my sincerest apology for it being late  and I will explain the delay in the newsletter

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