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Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Chapter 1
Is a Trawler Yacht for You?

Captain Robert Beebe first launched his purpose-designed and -built long-range yacht, Passagemaker, in 1967. Then, some eight years later, he published his ground-breaking book on crossing oceans in small, low-powered vessels, Voyaging Under Power.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Until that time, transoceanic crossings by yachtsmen in small vessels were pretty much the exclusive preserve of sailing yachts. But in the decade following the appearance of Beebe's widely-read book, the idea you could cross oceans in reasonable safety and comfort in small powered yachts took hold in the world of yachting.

Since then, the growing fascination with long-range cruising in power vessels has spawned terms like 'trawler yacht' and 'expedition yacht' which are used to designate relatively low-speed small pleasure craft intended to cruise both alongshore, between islands such as those of the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and even across oceans.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Along the way, the term 'trawler yacht' gained ground in referring to yachts built for long-range cruising. The term originally referred to a form of commercial fishing vessel that pulled a "trawl" - a large conically-shaped net that is dragged along the sea bottom in gathering fish or other marine life. Commercial trawlers collected huge amounts of fish for their size and so needed to have a large load-carrying capacity. Consequently, they were characterized by voluminous underwater volume relative to their waterline length. Indeed, a true trawler has a full-displacement hull form that exhibits a displacement to length ratio (D/L) greater than 500 - where D/L = displacement in long tons / (.01 x LWL)3.

Early in the history of voyaging under power, a few true commercial trawlers were converted into yachts. And some builders of true commercial trawlers, for example, Delta Marine of Seattle, turned to building yachts on the same hulls as their commercial trawlers. But it quickly became clear to even amateur naval architects and yachtsmen that pushing around the huge underwater volume of a true trawler made little sense for pleasure cruising. For even if filled with enough fuel, water, and stores to cross the Atlantic, a yacht conversion on a true trawler hull generally required additional deadweight ballast just to get the hull down onto her intended lines. Which is a ridiculously inefficient course to follow. Consequently, there soon emerged in the yachting sector pleasure vessels with profiles, superstructures, and overall looks that were reminiscent of commercial trawlers but with more power-efficient hulls with lower D/L ratios. This genre became known as "trawler-yachts", of which the most well-known brands were Grand Banks, Alaskan, Kadey-Krogen, Fleming, American Tug, De Fever, Marlow, Nordhavn Yachts, Nordic Tug, Ocean Alexander, Outer Reef, and Selene Yachts.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Of course, a prime law of marketing is that no accurate description of a product shall be left intact if it can be if it can be stretched and distorted to attract a broader cross-section of the market. Hence, over the last three or so decades, marketing and sales arms of many yacht builders have jumped onto the "trawler" bandwagon, until today, all manner of pleasure craft, from semi-displacement motor yachts to full-powered planning types are tagged with monikers like "Fast Trawler", "Swift Trawler", and - I guess - "Euro-Moderno Bateau". Just kidding on this last one.

The point is most of these contemporary "trawlers" have little if anything in common with genuine trawlers or even, for that matter, trawler-yachts. Therefore, the first step in searching for a trawler yacht is to get as clear as possible on what you're looking for in a yacht in general, then determine if the trawler-yacht genre satisfies more of your needs and requirements than any other type you might purchase.

Requirement = want + high priority...

Keep in mind, though, that needs are not the same as wants and requirements. For example, on a long-range cruising power yacht you need substantial tankage for fuel. But although you may require active fin-type stabilizers, you don't need them to get along.

A high-priority want becomes a requirement, if you're determined to end up with a yacht, you'll keep for many years to come. Occasionally, a prospective trawler yacht - or any yacht, for that matter - may lack something you want or even require, yet you might decide to do without it because, overall, you're strongly attracted to the remaining package. However, if the trawler-yacht you're looking at buying lacks something you've identified as a true need, that generally becomes a deal-breaker - assuming, of course, it can't be added or retrofitted.

Experienced buyers usually have a long list of "wants" but most of the time only a few of those wants rise to the level of a requirement. Understanding this helps with developing a prioritized list of the qualities you're looking for in a yacht - which is the key to avoid wasting weeks, months, and maybe even years searching for a yacht but never seeming to find the right one.

There are several other questions you need to ask yourself when developing your list of parameters. Foremost among these is the question of what your primary waters of operation will be? Are you going to run mostly alongshore? Out to, say, 50 or 100 miles of the shore? Are you going to be happy hopping from the mainland to an island chain offshore, and from there, between the islands of a chain like The Bahamas? Or are you determined to cross oceans?

Consider that almost every trawler-yacht sailor, at one time or another, pays at least lip service to making a transoceanic passage. But the fact is most are unlikely ever to cross an ocean on their yacht's own bottom. Indeed, I'd venture to say that trans-ocean crossings represent less than 3% of the thousands of passages made each year. And most yachtsmen are content to put their feet up each night after, say, a broiled lobster dinner and sleep at a dock or over the hook every night.

Which doesn't mean you won't see open waters in your trawler yacht, for you likely will - at least, occasionally. But that open-water operation will probably consist of island hopping, that is, mainland to offshore island(s) or between islands. And in such circumstances, a yacht needs to carry less fuel and be less stout than one which could find herself in the middle of, say, the Atlantic Ocean with a mean gale churning up 20-foot or taller breaking seas.

So, if you are one of the overwhelming majority who will cruise alongshore and island hop, coming to terms with that reality early will enable you to avoid paying unnecessarily for the added initial and ongoing costs of having a yacht that is transoceanic capable.

Finally, keep in mind that, as you look around at prospective yachts to buy, and as you learn more about what you really want and what may not be so important to you in a yacht, your list of needs and requirements will change. Consequently, as your search progresses, it pays to circle back from time to time to review some of the yachts you may have already rejected - to ensure that those ruled out earlier in your search do not now fit your revised criteria.

Chapter 2
Finding the Right Trawler-Yacht

As you look around for a trawler-yacht, keep in mind that the genre which developed primarily in the Taiwan yachtbuilding industry is not the only type. The Dutch have a long history of building some truly beautiful North Sea styled trawler-yachts - one of which was the Banjer 37, originally available as either a straight power yacht or a motorsailer.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Just about everyone agrees that how your plan to use your yacht (most of the time) is a key determinant in which yacht is best for you. But few people can tell you what that really means. Here are some key points to consider:

If you're going to spend most of your time on the water cruising alongshore and island-hopping, you'll likely want a trawler-yacht with a semi-displacement hull and the ability to run at higher than pure displacement speeds, say, at 12 to 18 knots.

That's because most alongshore cruising and island-hopping is destination oriented - that is, traveling primarily to a destination where you have things that you want to do, whether that involves eating out or exploring a town or even just relaxing on a deserted beach. And in such cases, you generally don't want to spend a full day or more slogging through seas at 6 knots top speed when you could be making the same passage at 12 to 18 knots in 1/2 to 1/3 of the time.

Few of us really want to spend any extended time on the open sea. Instead, we cross open waters for the purpose of getting somewhere where we want to cruise along the shore and even on navigable inland waters of a given region of interest, a destination.

There are those of us who want to liveaboard for an extended period, some keeping on the move continually and some rarely moving at all. And some of us who only want to use a trawler-yacht as a kind of weekend cottage or retreat.

All these uses are legitimate and - to my mind - worthwhile. Moreover, they are non-exclusive, that is, you can have more than one of these uses in mind when you are searching for the yacht of your dreams. And there are yachts which can handle all of these uses with aplomb. The catch is that the more generalized a given yacht is in its ability to serve a wider variety of purposes, the larger and more expensive that yacht is likely to be.

Consider also that some experienced yachtsmen believe, for a given budget, you're better off having a larger but less well-equipped trawler-yacht than a smaller one that is packed to its gills with expensive gadgetry and equipment - provided, of course, the yacht is within your capabilities to run and handle it.

There is little doubt that increased size often makes for greater comfort, especially in liveaboard or extended cruising circumstances. As well, increased size in a trawler-yacht often makes it possible to use stouter, more durable commercial-grade gear and equipment... which fit quite well with the trawler-yacht ethos.

Single- or twin-screw...

At some point in your search for a trawler-yacht - preferably earlier rather than later - you'll need to decide between single-engine or twin-engine main propulsion power. If you're an experienced yachtsman, you likely already have an opinion about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of each type. Nevertheless, consider the following points:

With contemporary bow and stern thrusters, as well as vectoring electronic controls available, single-screw trawler-yachts are much easier to dock and undock than they used to be. So, close-in handling with a small crew is not the determining factor it used to be.

Single-engine installations have been generally thought to be more economical than twin-engines, both in terms of initial cost and ongoing operation. However, that is pretty much a misconception. Granted, a single engine of a given HP generally costs less initially than two engines whose combined HP equal that of the single engine... but most trawler-yachts wander far from immediate help even if they are operating alongshore and island-hopping. And most trawler-yacht owners want a way to "get home" if a main propulsion engine fails while underway.

The common approach to a single main-engine installation is to rig some form of alternative get-home propulsion power - perhaps using a jack-shaft or hydraulic PTO or even an electric motor driven by a genset. The downside is that every one of these and similar alternatives are expensive to assemble and far less reliable than simply splitting the marine propulsion system into twins. And this generalization applies independent of whether your looking at Caterpillar, MTU, MAN, Cummins, or John Deere engines. But don't take my or anyone else's word for it... work the numbers for yourself.

And while you're at it, also consider that a single-engine main propulsion installation does not necessarily use less fuel because, single engine or twin, a given yacht requires a given amount of horsepower (and fuel burn) to achieve a given level of speed. Whether you supply all the required horsepower from a single engine or half of the required horsepower from each of two smaller engines, the rate of fuel burn at a given boat speed will be virtually the same. Theoretically, anyway.

It doesn't always work out that way since a 200-HP engine may weigh more than half of a 400-HP engine. But in general, you will find that the twin-engine rigs don't compare as badly to single-engine rigs cost-wise as many people (even some pros in the industry) think - provided you factor in the additional costs of an auxiliary "get-home" rig.

How many berths does she have...

Most yacht buyers are understandably concerned with general arrangement and interior accommodations. Trawler-yacht buyers are no exception. In fact, it may be the case that trawler-yacht buyers are more concerned than many other yacht buyers and owners because most trawler-yacht buyers are all about cruising and only cruising.

Many die-hard sportfishing men and women are happy to sleep dormitory style on hard narrow berths if the yacht will take them to the offshore grounds for marlin, swordfish, dorado, and other sportfish - and bring them home again ahead of anyone else. Poker-run offshore race guys want to "get there" first and fast, and each evening hit the restaurants and lounges, then flop in a good hotel. But most trawler-yacht people want to spend much of their non-running time on their yacht, at dock or over the hook, relaxing and doing a lot of what they might otherwise do if living ashore. Consequently, interior layout and accommodations become key issues in considering which yacht to buy.

So, you ask, how many berths do I need? To which question the answer is, one for each person who is going to sleep aboard.

Yea, I know that's not very helpful. But the fact is on a trawler-yacht intended for lengthier cruises, it takes more than sleeping space. If you want to cruise or liveaboard for extended periods, you also need enough common space to lounge comfortably without feeling crowded in, sufficient space and load-carrying capacity for fuel, water, stores, and the myriad items (okay, junk) that you consider prerequisite to comfortable living. The important thing is to get away from thinking of yachting as camping and to never talk yourself into compromising on any aspect of day-to-day living that you would otherwise consider essential.

That's not to say there aren't people who'd be happy to cruise 'round the world on a Hobie Cat with a tent and a backpack (and some life jackets and a radio) strapped to the trampoline.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Most likely, you're not one of them. So, you'll be best served in your search for a trawler-yacht to assess with a high degree of self-honesty the level of comfort, even luxury, you'll require.

This is something only you can judge with any accuracy. However, there are, again, some basic points to keep in mind.

The number of people - guests, crew, whatever - a yacht will accommodate comfortably for more than just a day trip is limited not only by the number of berths she has but by the number and type of bath/toilet compartments she has. For living in close quarters requires meticulous attention to personal hygiene, and that is made difficult if you have six or eight people waiting in line to use a single loo.

Another limiting factor is the ability to seat everyone at a table or tables for meals. Most people can manage for a day or so eating off paper plates set in their laps, but if you intend to spend extended periods cruising and living aboard, you (and any guests you expect to have for any significant length of time) need to be able to take meals in a relaxed environment, not worrying about dropping a soggy paper plate of beans on the floor or, worse, the carpet.

Yes, I know you're probably rolling your eyes and thinking how obvious this all is. But make no mistake, obvious or not, you'd be surprised by the number of prospective buyers who insist on having eight berths on a yacht that can only sit four at the dining table. They might squeak by for a day or so, but by the end of even just a long weekend, they're likely to be at each other's throats.

A reasonable rule of thumb is to look for one toilet per every two guests or crew likely to be aboard for more than a day or two. For example, if you and your spouse want to be able to have another couple aboard for an extended time, you should look for a minimum of two full bath and toilet compartments. If you anticipate having a total of six persons aboard for any significant length of time, you should look for three bath/toilet compartments.

Stay somewhat flexible, though. For example, six people can manage with two full bath/toilet compartments plus a day head - especially if the yachts stern or swim platform is fitted with a good freshwater handheld shower.

And speaking of staying flexible, you don't have to sit everyone at a formal dining table in the saloon, galley, or pilothouse if you have room for everyone at your flybridge table or on the quarterdeck. The point is to be able to have for certain functions a measure of land-based normalcy if you want still to be enjoying yourself a couple of cruising years.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Galleys are highly idiosyncratic. For example, before my wife and I spent seven years cruising and living aboard our 18-ton wheelhouse motorsailer, we kept a magnetic plaque on the refrigerator of our land-based kitchen which said, "I came, I saw, and I ordered take-out!" And rest assured, we did not change our habits when we moved aboard our beloved trawler-like yacht, the Noka.

When we cruised and lived aboard, my wife and I spent a lot of time partaking of local cuisine ashore. Which meant we did not require a gourmet-level galley. A refrigerator, small freezer, three-burner propane stove, and a small micro-wave oven were enough. And that would not have changed even if our yacht had been much larger than it was. Your habits and needs, however, will likely be different. The important point is to understand what those needs and requirements are and whether the yacht you're considering provides for them - or at least, can be modified to accommodate them.

A four-foot long bathtub is still a shower pan...

A lot of interior layouts that look great on paper or in photos are disasters in person. Almost always because they lack that little bit of extra elbow room that's necessary to make them truly functional.

My advice to new-build clients is to design (or decide on) an accommodations layout, then make the yacht 10% longer and 10% wider, but do not add anything to the accommodations. You will then end up with a yacht in which your (and the designer's) great ideas work in the real world. No children's-sized sofas. No tables for six that have a seating width per person of 18". No counter-tops with the depth of a book shelf. In a trawler-yacht, indeed in any yacht. It's better to leave something non-essential out altogether than to mini-size it just to be able to say you have it. Always remember a four-foot long "bathtub" is still just a shower pan.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Of course, if you're searching for a pre-owned or already-built trawler-yacht, you pretty must accept (or reject) what you're presented with. But if you're presented with a yacht that in most respects has what you need and require, you should think hard about whether what it lacks is really a deal-breaker.

Think hard about whether modifications can be made to add or retrofit items or features you find wanting. Provided the added cost of modifications plus the total cost of purchasing the yacht is within reason and your budget, you might be better off settling for less than your ideal (at a lower price, of course) and then, after closing on the acquisition, adding what you feel the yacht needs in order to bring it up to your specific needs and requirements.

That said, unless you're exceptionally experienced and technically knowledgeable - in which case you likely wouldn't be looking for advice here - don't rely solely on what a broker or other salesperson tells you about what can or cannot be accomplished. Instead, seek out the advice of someone who specializes yacht building and refit and who has proven experience with trawler-yachts.

Nevertheless, irrespective of how sage the advisors you choose might be, always measure what they say against your own common sense and what you know about yourself and the ways in which you use or plan to use the yacht. Then and only then, make your decisions based on what you know is best for you and your circumstances... do not do or accept something simply because some dockside expert tells you it's the right choice. For if you do, you will end up buying and living with a yacht that they would want and not one that is best suited to what you want.

If you want to stay in one place, consider buying a cottage...

I have no doubt that I'd be skewered by Poseidon's trident if I didn't share the following with you: Trawler-yachts are not meant to be floating cottages. Trawler-yachts - the good ones, that is - are created to go places and do things. Therefore, you should avoid the trap of focusing solely on interior layout and accommodations. Instead, you should also carefully consider factors such as deck layout and equipment installations.

Given that trawler-yachts generally spend more time on the hook than any other class of

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

pleasure craft, you'll need to evaluate whether a prospective yacht's ground tackle (anchors and rodes), as well as its windlass(es) are up to providing you with peace of mind when you anchor out, sometimes of necessity in exposed locations.

How are the yacht's anchors housed, and how are they deployed? How are they retrieved? Notice it's not an accident that I'm using the plural here.

Speaking bluntly, this is one area of concern in which you do well to speak not to sales people, designers, or even naval architects but to long-term, deeply-experienced cruising yachtsmen and yachtswomen who have traveled extensively on a yacht of approximately the same size as yours. Because in matters such as anchoring, there is absolutely no substitute for in-depth, real-world experience (no pun intended).

Does the trawler-yacht you're considering have workable outside control station... and is it far enough aft to be out of bow spray in all but the heaviest of weather? How is the stowage for a tender accomplished, and how do you launch and retrieve that tender? What happens if you need to perform those operations in a rolling or breaking sea? If the tender is driven by a gasoline motor, how is the reserve gasoline fuel stowed and dispensed?

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Is the yacht you're considering stabilized and if so, how? Is she equipped with traditional paravanes - weighted hydrodynamic plates called "fish" that are towed and which dive easily but resist being pulled up through the water? Or is she equipped with a more contemporary active fin type stabilizing system? Does she have to be moving through the water for the stabilizers to work properly? Or do they also have zero-speed capability as do some of the more recent fin types and the latest gyroscopic types do?

Beyond such essential considerations, there are a myriad of other details that call for your attention in the course of searching for the right trawler-yacht. Indeed, there are so many it would take a book to go through all of them. Come on, don't frown like that, nobody said finding precisely the right trawler-yacht for your needs and requirements would be easy. Straightforward, yes. Easy, No. But then, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Chapter 3
Making the Acquisition

The process of searching for and selecting a trawler-yacht has its own peculiar traits and quirks. Buying one, however, is pretty much the same as buying any other yacht. Broken down into broad basic elements, you need to:

  1. Find the trawler-yacht you want to buy.
  2. Make a bona fide offer to purchase.
  3. If and when that offer is accepted, arrange to have the trawler-yacht inspected and sea-trialed.
  4. If the inspection (survey) and the sea trial are satisfactory, close on the purchase and take possession.

Naturally, each of these steps involves a multiplicity of smaller but critical components, each of which must be accomplished in order to bring your acquisition to a successful conclusion. For example, before you can accept the vessel, you'll almost always want to have a survey performed on her. And before you can close the purchase, you'll need to have a check done for liens and other encumbrances that might be registered against the yacht you want to purchase.

In some cases, you'll also want an attorney with appropriate qualifications and experience to vet the closing documents to assure transfer of title free and clear and, maybe, see to the funds escrow and distribution at closing. If you are not completely familiar with the fully-detailed drill involved, you may want to read the following additional brief guides:

  1. Buying and Selling a New or Used Yacht
    Answers to Frequently Asked Questions...
  2. Not Just Any Yacht Survey Will Do
    Understanding the difference between various kinds of yacht surveys will help you avoid a variety of headaches...
  3. Ten Golden Rules for Successful New-Build Projects

A guide to having a new yacht built, widely acclaimed by experienced yacht owners and well-known industry professionals...

Whether you're buying a pre-owned or new trawler-yacht - or maybe having one built custom or semi-custom for you - you will want to retain competent, experienced professionals to help guide you along through the process. The best of these will almost always save a buyer more than the cost of their fees by helping their clients avoid potentially costly errors and pitfalls. Seattle Yachts has an expert team of brokers who have decades of experience helping clients find the perfect trawler yacht. You can read more about Seattle Yachts' tips on buying a yacht online.

Be cautious, however, when hiring consultants and other supposed experts. For there is no shortage of instant, self-proclaimed "experts" out there. And neither "letters" nor "certifications" guarantee the person sporting them is, in fact, competent. Always look additionally to prior-demonstrated results, previous work accomplished, and confirmable reputation.

Buying And Owning A Trawler Yacht

Finally, make sure that any consultant(s) you may hire are experienced in trawler-yachts and appreciative of the breed. In other words, don't hire a sportfishing expert to advise you on the selection, acquisition, and maybe revamp of a trawler-yacht and expect to get the right advice. This may all seem self-evident once you've read it in print, but don't underestimate how many times something like that happens with less than stellar results.

Chapter 4
Cruising on Your "New" Trawler-Yacht

Some people are content to spend half their lives looking for the "perfect" trawler-yacht. And if that brings happiness and pleasure to them, so be it. As someone who has spent most of his adult life "messin' about with boats", I make no judgments concerning the relative merits of dreaming versus doing. And I allow that whatever floats your boat is just fine with me. Truth be told, dreaming is a lot less expensive than buying and owning.

However, if you're set on cruising for extended periods on a yacht, I can't think of a better way to do it than on a well-designed, well-built, and well-found trawler-yacht. And I assume you agree, or you wouldn't have slogged through to this point. Therefore, my expectation is that the day will come when you'll set off on your own, recently acquired trawler-yacht.

Hopefully, you will have taken the time to prepare for that day... by accumulating experience on other yachts and boats, attending knowledge-building seminars at boat shows and events like Passagemaker magazine's Trawler Fest, and by training where and when you can with professionals like those at the Chapman School of Seamanship.

In my experience, most yachtsmen and yachtswomen who are buying a "new" yacht are "stepping up" - if not in terms of size, then in terms of complexity of machinery and equipment. Improved electronic navigation equipment for improved safety with less effort. Perhaps, both bow and stern thrusters electronically controlled and integrated into a vectoring and position-holding package for easier docking and undocking with a small crew. Maybe even active fin type stabilization combined with zero-speed capabilities for increased comfort at sea and over the hook.

As a result, even experienced cruising people who are purchasing a "new" trawler-yacht can benefit from spending some time building new skills or sharpening up those which they have. All of which invariably results in bolstered self-confidence and more pleasurable cruising... for everyone involved.

If you're well-experienced, you likely won't need the following piece of advice. But if you're relatively new to extended cruising and passagemaking, what I'm about to say will help you avoid problems and potential early disillusion. Go slow!

By that, I don't mean run at low speeds. I mean don't take delivery of your "new" trawler-yacht - the one you've been dreaming of going 'round the world in - and immediately take off across the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. Begin, instead, with shorter, more easily-managed passages across open waters.

Start with a few alongshore passages outside. Then step up to some island hopping and, eventually, to crossing some large sounds and smaller seas such as the Gulf of Mexico. And only after a year or two, if you find you like being at sea, consider making that transoceanic passage you've been dreaming for years of doing.

There are several reasons for following this approach. First, you will build valuable knowledge of your vessel and skill in handling her in a variety of more difficult conditions. Second, you'll get a chance to sort out any latent problems with your trawler-yacht and her gear. Third, you might find, as many of us have, that you don't really like spending more than a day or two in open waters out of sight of land. Not because it's scary or uncomfortable, but because to many, it's just plain monotonous. And if you do experience that epiphany, that's okay. As there's a lifetime of truly great cruising to be done without ever being further than 100 miles from shore.

To be sure, some sailors find long ocean passages invigorating, even life-renewing. If you are one of them, more power to you. But if you're not truly enamored of standing watch-on and watch-off for twelve or fifteen days straight or more, seeing only the sun, stars, and ocean swells and seas, it's better to learn that before you spend months preparing for and setting out on a transoceanic passage.

The delightful fact about the trawler-yacht genre is that it encompasses vessels variously suited to all manner of cruising. And it's a mistake to think that trawler-yachting involves only ocean crossing.

If after reading this you find yourself wanting to build your own custom trawler yacht, our new yacht design and build team is known as the best in the industry. Rather find a brokerage trawler? Seattle Yachts has offices in the Pacific Northwest to South Florida to Southern California. Contact us today at one of our convenient locations to get started on your cruising journey by yacht.

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