Wellington College Red Sea Diving Holiday 2014

We’ve just returned from another fantastic trip with the staff and students from Wellington College. You can read all about the fun we had on the blog that Dr. O’Loughlin kindly wrote below:

Day 1

I’d like to say I’ve missed travelling with Wellington students, but I haven’t. If it was just one incident, I’d embellish the story, but I’ll have to summarise. Charlie and Will and James Line went to the wrong terminal – “But there were Easyjet flights leaving from the other terminal!”, Harriet left her passport on the plane after landing and guess what – they found an iphone next to her passport? Fancy that. “Oh yes I left that as well”. The usual chaos of Egyptian airports with dodgy visa sellers trying to fleece us and numerous security guards finding jobs to do and we were finally back into the inferno of the Egyptian sun and the bus departed for the 3hr drive to Port Ghalib. We’d been told it would take 3 hrs with a half hour break, but we said we’d rather just push through and go direct to the port. Unfortunately the driver translated this as simply we didn’t want to stop and just drove slower. And I mean slowly. Really. Sloooowwwwwwly. We wondered whether he was just letting us see the sights of Quesir but as Melvyn said – it looked like a scenario from Call of Duty. Not somewhere where we wanted to stop, or see even. More shouts followed of “I’ve lost my phone in the coach” followed after searching high and low with “Oh it’s in my bag”. Deep breath. It’s only a week.

But the extra drive was worth it – Port Ghalib is a much nicer port than the international port at Sharm. We found our boat and explored the boat which is bigger and better than last year. The biggest decision will be which sun deck we spend the day on (there are three) and do we want Hot water or Cold water in the Jacuzzi. It’s tough here. Mark Murphy has already disappeared into the local nightlife with the dive guide under some ruse of ‘finding an old friend’ or something and left us to open the card playing for the week.

Tomorrow we have a leisurely motor ahead of us to the first dive site of the day where most students are doing some course of some description. The guides have just come back from a previous tour where on one dive they saw 22 Hammerheads and 2 manta rays, so they are feeling confident of seeing some good stuff – hope I haven’t jinxed it now!

As for the group, they all seem to be getting on well and Mrs G has already been keenly noting things to influence the ‘dive-trip-romance’ betting odds. More to follow no doubt.

Tourists of the day:

No doubt the winners today were the three musketeers failing to get to the right airport. Seriously – was it that difficult?

Day 2

Normally day 2 starts with a crazily early start and being in the water by 6am, but this year we had a leisurely breakfast, refuelled and pottered to our first dive site, a nice shallow reef where the qualified divers could do their check dives and the open water trainees could actually dive for the first time. They did really well, and all completed their mask skills with only the occasional negligent ascent (Harriet did a particularly elegant bum-first variant) and whilst ears are a little sore having being equalised about a thousand times, they’ve now done ¾ of their qualification. We then sauntered (nothing seems to happen fast around here) to Sha’ab Marsa Alam where we’ve done a daytime dive and also a night dive, seeing a wide variety of reef fish, moray eels, stingrays and crocodile fish. The night dive was popular and we managed to just about avoid all clumping into each other and had a nice and chilled cruise up and down the reef. Cuttlefish, sea worms, scorpion fish and all sorts of microscopic critters were in attendance and only one of our team managed to break on of the expensive torches. I’d like to say it was one of the third formers, but Mark our instructor has just had to completed his punishment of making the after dinner hot drinks. He wasn’t happy,

but it was more successful than Ed Bagley’s attempt at lunchtime which were all promptly knocked over by a freak wave!

Amusements of the day have come via Melvin our other instructor getting more and more grumpy with people stealing his towel – it’s so entertaining I’m going to start pinching it tomorrow. Mrs G is getting seriously excited by the action of salt water on her mankey (sorry but it is) thumb – lots of fish have had a skin-heavy diet today. We’ve also had some people feeding the fish over the side of the boat on a bit of a choppy journey, but they’re feeling better now and the sea is a little calmer.

As I write everyone is snuggling down for the evening movie – too early to say whether we shall have further movement on the romance betting, but Charlie and Elliot are definitely getting dangerously cosy together.

Tourist of the day….

It could be Ed Bagley, for dropping his fin into 15m of water (luckily caught by another diver below) or it could be any number of minor indiscretions, but today goes to someone who has pleasantly surprised me. Normally the music put on the sound system by our Egyptian friends is eclectic to say the least, but this afternoon’s soft rock/American blues playlist by Ahmed the dive guide this afternoon kept the toes tapping on the top deck all afternoon. Respect. Init.

Day 3

Four dives today and we started at 6am with an early wake up call and a dive at Fury Shoals. We finished most of the students’ open water courses and had a mooch around an absolutely stunning ship wreck, totally encrusted in coral and packed full of glass fish. I could happily swim around that all week. The second dive was the first of the advanced course and  beautiful corals and fish were in abundance and everyone enjoyed a chilled dive, with a focus on identification of different fish species. We moved to a new dive site – “the playground” where a system of caverns and tunnels allows divers to play around at trying to find the boat. One group ended up on the wrong side of the reef, with a strong current stopping us from getting back. A quick wave of the orange marker buoy and a zodiac zoomed over and picked us up, in 4ft of swell. Not very elegant as everyone was hauled into the boat. The others tried to do some navigation skills but all decided to swim in the wrong direction, failed to stay where they were told and were generally delinquent. After having a telling off in the boat they will have another go tomorrow and let’s just say we have plenty of people to make the coffee tonight! En route to our mooring for the night, the shout echoed around the boat – “Dolphins!” A pod of 20 or so dolphins then proceeded to entertain us, dancing around the bow of the boat, with babies in tow to boot. Mega cool. Mrs G then led some of us on a yoga workshop which was supposed to be relaxing but seemed to me to just be painful! We had a good swim and a team photo with the sunset in the background. Just as we returned to the boat, Mark tested the trainee rescue divers by feigning drowning. They sort of tried, but essentially watched him drown. More work required. His miraculous recovery was precipitated by the boat’s waste tanking starting to discharge which let’s just say left nothing to the imagination as to its contents. We’ve never got on the boat so fast! The day finished with a night dive where we were stalked by 10 lionfish who used the light of our torches to hunt their prey. Lots of divers meant that the reef was well illuminated but there were some good spots of unicorn fish and a huge stingray.

We’ve had a few divers struggling with sore ears / tiredness / sea sickness, but everyone has made it into the water at least a few times today so we’re all enjoying ourselves with the usual shenanigans. Miss Wyatt seems to be the favourite with the crew who are now a little keener after they realised is she wasn’t a student and Elliott seems to have become the cool shark of the group, complete with his attached remora fish…..

Tourists of the day: Well they’ve had their difficulties but they’ve all made it in the end and we now have 8 new qualified divers. Well done to Harriet, Will, Alex, Alexander, Ben, Jack, Owen and Chris.

Day 4

The day started with the deep dive where we went to the ‘drop off’ (bit like finding Nemo) and over the top we went and down towards the blue. They did very well at maintaining their depth and enjoyed the experience, with a few of them spending some time watching a local turtle. The second dive was a drift dive and lots of new experiences. We went out on the zodiacs and had to learn to enter the water commano-style and then the current started gentle and then got stronger and stronger. Just when we thought we were surfacing near the main boat, the current cranked up another notch and we ended up being towed back to the boat behind the zodiac on a rope. Not very elegant, damned hard work but good fun.

The day though will be summarised with one word. Dolphins. About a hundred of them. We knew they were around and were playing with the boat as we motored along. The Captain said you are not allowed to snorkel in the open sea, but he’s a nice chap and we won’t tell anyone. We jumped on the zodiacs and got the dolphins attention by roaring around and then we dropped in and they swam around us, jumped around us and we just cavorted around in the water for about an hour with dolphins in every direction. Quite simply an unforgettable experience and one which will stay with us for ever.

The third dive….I can’t really remember it after the excitement of dolphins. Oh yes. Reef, little shipwreck, fish. Usual gig. Night dive was also a nice bimble around the same site and we were lucky enough to see 4 Spanish Dancers which were a particular highlight.

As the Rescue divers have been starting their courses, the staff (and Elliott) have been getting a little peaky and we keep dying in the water and they keep having to rescue us. They are now so paranoid that Charlie seems to always be accompanied by his trusty life ring and Lauren (aka Laura the Ramora) is keeping close to Elliott – looking for an opportunity for mouth to mouth?

Cat and Alice (Mrs G and Miss W) are increasingly catching the eye of the boat crew and so they are trying to dissuade them by pretending to be in love with each other which is entertaining if not effective. They certainly don’t need to ask before they are helped into their wet suits!

‘The Game’ (think ‘it’ crossed with ‘Cluedo’) has started which means everyone has gone into super-paranoid mode with requests like ‘could you pass me my log book’ being greeted with an unprintable reply. It’s everyone for themselves at the moment. And I’m still in, which is a first in 4 years.

The day’s routine now includes a Yoga session on the dive deck which now has about 12 attendees and an audience of about 15 laughing at us wincing in pain as our limbs fail to do what they are supposed to and we get told off.

Tourist of the day.

Frankie. Never before have so ridiculously detailed questions been asked by one person.

“If we’re rescuing someone and we can only find a tank of Nitrox which has 29% oxygen but they were diving on Nitrox of 30%, should we……..” I can’t even remember how it finished, but we’ve chuckled all day and so he’s a deserving recipient.

Day 5.

First an addendum to yesterday’s entry. We have now had James Line on three trips and something momentous happened yesterday. Whilst snorkelling with the dolphins, Mrs G’s unceremonious entry to the zodiac resulted in her being a fin short. A quick re tracing of our steps led us to a moment of pure heroism. James spotted the offending fin, a couple of metres down and falling fast and without a second thought he rolled in and retrieved said fin. In 3 years this is the first useful thing James has done. Bravo.

Now on to today. Dive one was the ‘stairway to heaven’ and was simply stunning with pristine coral as far as the eye could see. Think of the best artificial reef you’ve ever seen in a shopping centre and spread it out 100m in every direction. Dive two was another long dive around a reef (I’ve forgotten the name), but after lots of training dives, it was nice for everyone just to have a mooch around. There was some posing as divers practised their photography skills. In dive three, a grey reef shark was spotted which was a treat for some and for the rest it was just a chilled out dive along some more pristine reef. We did have to practise our advanced buoyancy skills, which mainly involved trying to float upside down without going up or down. It must have made a strange site. It really is noticeable how much better the coral is here rather than further north at Sharm-El-Sheikh and so nice to not see another dive boat all week. We’ve now turned north and started to head back towards Marsa Alam and have moored near another reef where the night dive yielded a big moray, a huge pufferfish and all sorts of microscopic critters which most people would rather not know exist!

Whilst most of the students are so tired that they just snooze all day, like a load of cats on a windy day, they had a mad half hour where they jumped, dived, flopped, splashed, fought, wrestled and generally cavorted around the back of the boat. For the more sensible ones among us, we just sat upstairs and watched a magnificent sunset in relative peace and quiet.

The game of killer is still going, but sadly I’m now out which leaves about half of us in. Miss W is representing that staff body so we will all gang up on them. Everyone is still VERY paranoid.

Preparation for the night dive caused much amusement with the tunes pumping and a good buzz. With little hope of romance blossoming amongst the students I asked ‘Sharkey’ (The crew member with the wandering eye) which of our staff divers he preferred. After lots of laughing, lots of Arabic and some consultation with his other crew members, we have sold Mrs G AND Miss W for 13 camels and box of O-rings and a short wedding ceremony is planned for the morning.

Tourist of the day…

This person wins the coveted award today for making the biggest improvement to his diving. At the beginning of the week he made a decent stab at impersonating a Jacuzzi and would use more air than he needed. After a quick pep talk on how to breathe, he has made massive progress and is now using less air then most. Well done Miles.

Day 6

Another early morning start and we had I think everyone has shaken off sore ears, sleepy heads and colds and we had a full complement diving today. We started at Sha’ab Sharm with a nice leisurely dive looking for sharks which one group were lucky enough to see – a couple of white tipped reef sharks cruising past. We were also inundated with Titan trigger fish which are actually by far the most dangerous fish around here. Chunky, bold and happy to bite you if you swim over their nest. You’ve always got to be suspicious of a fish which swims along with its huge teeth on show. Luckily they’ve just been cruising around the reef and so they’re being friendly at the moment, but they always swim just that little bit too close to you.

The second dive was very entertaining. In a bid to make a beautiful photo, we planned to enter from the zodiac, Mark was going to go deep very quickly and then we were going to form a circle, all holding hands as we gracefully descended, silhouetted against the sun. But then I ruined it because my tank fell off and I needed the assistance of my buddies to reattach it. Sorry. Before the dive James Line tried flirting with Harriet, but after throwing a can of drink at her and splitting her cheek open, he adopted less Neanderthal techniques with Ashleigh. All through the dive they were playing the fool with each other. James strutting around like a peacock and all the staff laughing as he was so distracted that he’d swim into some great big lump of coral. We’ve also invented a new series of hand signals to communicate the degrees of flirting. They do make us laugh….

Miss Wyatt still keeps us amused. Today has involved a member of crew walking in on her in the bathroom which she has seen the funny side of and the crew member, after being mortified now just laughs whenever he sees us. It is worth pointing out at this stage what fun the crew are. They are always on hand to help us with our equipment, and are such good sports, playing jokes on us and not batting an eyelid when they get too close to the edge of the boat and someone pushes them in (they get their own revenge later). The food has been superb all week and barely have we finished eating than the dishes are washed and dried, cutlery all back in the drawer and the pledge is out to polish the woodwork again. I’m sure my wife would trade me in without a second thought.

It is with great sadness that there has been some filthy pictures discovered on the boat. Mark leant his camera to several students and on looking at the results, it has revealed that someone on board has a fetish for…..clams. Not a single picture of a decent fish, but shot after shot of damned clams. My money is on one of the Lines. Disgusting.

The third dive – we had an idea of a group photo underwater. Negotiating 24 divers into a line, at 15m underwater on a sandy bottom was always going to be tricky, but we just about slotted everyone in, some being lowered into place by the dive guides. The pictures finished, we then had to find our groups and there were divers going in every direction. Eventually we got on with our dives and toured a shipwreck of a previous liveaboard that had caught fire and sunk. Some beautiful brain corals followed and we surfaced just as the trainee rescue divers were doing their recovering body scenarios. They all managed to haul each other into the boat and the only casualties were Charlie’s testicles courtesy of Lauren’s knee. I shouldn’t laugh.

The final night dive of the trip has just finished and we repeated the dive of before and had a good two minutes where we turned all the torches off and just sat in darkness, waving at each other with phosphorescent plankton. We saw a nice big pipefish and lots of cool little crabs and shrimps and they are all so confident in their diving that they often just finish their dives in their buddy pairs and surface together when they are done.

Will line has re-formed a previous favourite – team lobster. Such is the heat emanating from his chest that the chefs have just used it to keep the dinner warm. Still, he seems to be getting a disproportional amount of enjoyment from rubbing after sun in to his chest. Nipples in particular.

Tourist of the day.

It was as if he was disappointed not to get it a few days ago for his heroism. But James you can’t get the girl by knocking her unconscious with blunt objects. We moved out of the stone age a while ago and there are laws against these things. Better luck tomorrow.

Day 7.

Last dives today and we decided to go to the world famous Elphinstone reef to dive with the sharks. I feel that every trip we always finish off by writing “ we hanged in the blue for 20 mins and unfortunately didn’t see anything”. Well… we descended (a negative entry from the zodiacs) and the three groups went to 35, 30 and 21m respectively. And we saw the HAMMERHEADS! and not just one, but 4 of the little rippers, cruising in the deep. Mark our instructor has done over 2500 dives and rated it in his top 5 dives ever. Fist pumps a-plenty and we then slowly ascended and cruised along the reef wall getting rid of all the nitrogen in our blood before being picked up and taken back to the mothership. As if spirits weren’t high enough, we then had a visit from another huge pod of dolphins who milled around the boat for half an hour or so. No snorkelling today (too many bitey sharks around) but we never get bored of their company. And then I was bullied – I’ll hand over to Mrs G…..the second dive was a very special dive for Dr O, and the whole team: it was his 100th dive! We marked this momentous occasion by dressing Dr O, ‘Julia’, in pretty pink girly clothes and make-up. The dining area was transformed into a beauty parlour and James Line lined up some cracking tunes to help ‘Julia’ get into the girly mood. There was some complications adjusting all the many straps on the seriously bright pink bikini but rest assured it fitted perfectly over his wetsuit.  Next up was Ashleigh and Lauren with heavy eye liner application, lipstick and blusher, and Harriet on nails (pink, obvs). Within minutes ‘Julia’ was positively glowing (and looked rather uncomfortable posing for the paparazzi) and it wasn’t long before Sharkey got his hands on ‘Julia’ out in the dive deck…..he just couldn’t resist. At least it kept Miss W and I off the radar for a few minutes!…and back to the dive….

For the second dive, we had the shortest briefing of the week: “We’re doing that again!”. So we dropped in and sunk into the depths looking for our new found friends. Some of the students decided that their watches were just a fashion accessory rather than being a useful indicator of how deep they were and so James Line had to grab a few and pull them out of the abyss, but no harm done other than what they received from me when we got back to the boat!

We then sorted out kit, and motored back to port before spending the afternoon at a local hotel run by the boat company. The kids went and found a water polo court and before long the newly formed Wellington College Water Polo 1st XV were locked in battle with ‘Budgie Smugglers United’. Glover played left wing and rained in goals whilst Miles tended our net and blocked many shots mainly because it took him so long to react to the ball travelling towards him and it ricocheted off his face. The boys though were struggling. Will Line was thrown around the pool like an irritating gnat and with Evans/Surrall up front they could only just breathe as the water came up to their throats. Time to let the big dogs eat. Mark, Melvin and I stripped off and entered the lions’ den. The tables were turned. With three large obstacles in the middle of the pool we could afford to send Miles up front and we could run interference for James to maraude through the middle. Just as victory seemed inevitable, they all ran away claiming a slim victory and we were left to dispute several ‘Sweaty goals’ (not sure what they are, but the kids all seemed to agree) and the fact that their goal keeper was sitting on a wall and would have made a better door than a window. A moral victory and James Line’s black eye was the only injury. Fancy that being you James.

The evening passed with Mrs G and Miss W hosting many games  and the ‘Killer’ is down to the last two, with Chaz Mackay and Miss W trying to catch each other. Fear everything. Trust no-one. ***BREAKING NEWS CHAZ MACKAY CAUGHT ON MIDDLE DECK WITH TEA CUP – ALICE WYATT CLAIMS TITLE *** The Jacuzzi was filled up with freshwater (which looked a little yellow) and the boys jumped in and with Miss W leaning over the edge trying to work the controls it looked like she was giving them all a bath. Made us chuckle. Mark, Melvin and I went into Port Ghalib to “discuss future trips” with some of the Emperor staff and when we returned they were all tucked up in bed. Bless. And so the sun sets on another trip. Hopefully we’ll have no addendums to the blog and we will return on time. A huge thank you to Mark and Melvin who have taught everyone some course or another and never lost their rag (well only occasionally) when they’ve been idiots and they have got stuck in with the day to day life of the boat and the kids have really valued their company and experience. To the crew, Momo and AC who have been excellent dive guides and the fact that AC would frequently struggle to finish a briefing without bursting into laughter is so indicative. Thank you for trusting them to dive Elphinstone safely (not many trips like ours would be allowed there) and for snorkelling with the dolphins. They’ve been the highlights. Finally a huge thank you to my sidekicks Alice, Cat and THE CLAW who have just been brilliant all week – caring for the kids when required, telling them off when needed and contributing hugely to the happy fun boat that we’ve had. Good times. See you all next year!

We’ve decided to go with awards this year so here they are:

James Line – The Peacock award. James cannot dive calm. If someone needs rescuing. He’s your man. If there’s a pretty girl in the water who needs entertaining, he’s your man. If neither of the above apply he’ll create some incident.

Will Line – Mr Can do. Can he dive for seven hours on one tank? Yes he can. Can he drive the boat whilst the deckhand has a smoke? Yes he can. Can he get himself redder than a Spanish Dancer?OH YES HE CAN. Top tourist and the crew’s favourite.

Will Morison – The giving it back prize. Whilst some have taken things from the trip, only Will has given something back and the fish have benefitted from a little extra nutrition as Will has done some “rail time”.

Charlie – The Narcosis award. Never narked in the sea, but off his head the rest of the time. Some might have thought him the gooseberry, but he’s made us laugh all week and always has a playlist ready to get us into the mood. A top tourist.

Elliott – Resistance to pressure award. Whether it be the effects of pressure underwater or on board from a certain someone he has been cool calm and professional all week. He’s been another member of staff all week and is fast becoming a bit of a diving legend. In Laura-the-Ramora’s eyes at least.

Jack and Owen. They are actually the same person, so only one prize – the Doppelganger award. AC and Momo (the guides) have not actually noticed that there are two of them (they look so alike) but they’ve impressed us all with their diving skills, banter and cheeky smiles.

Ben – Mr focus. When Ben wants to look at a fish, he decends into some sort of catatonic state and nothing can break him out of it. This often results in 10 of us banging tanks and waiting for him, but when he’s finished, he comes out of his trance and has been a great diver.

Miles –The morning man award. Miles can get out of bed in under 2 hours sometimes and frequently falls asleep in briefings. Once he got the hang of breathing steadily he improved hugely and is now a very competent diver.

Ed – The silent assassin. Always keen for a challenge and a quiet but lethal killer in any sort of game. Comfortable in the water and an excellent diver.

Christopher George – The Dream Team medal. Christopher crawls out of bed in the mornings and then just goes back to sleep in the briefing. That’s not really getting up is it? Always dozing somewhere – just hopefully not underwater.

Olly Rudd – The long haired sloth prize. Nothing happens fast in Ollie’s world and we can all wait until Olly has finished getting everything on bar his mask and we can still beat him into the zodiac. But underwater, this laid back approach makes him an excellent diver and very economical with his air.

Alex Woodburn – The Darcy Bussell prize for creative underwater arts. Some dive in a calm and relaxed manner, but some use the opportunity to throw some shapes out and flap, cavort, pirouette his way around the reef. Score? SEVEN!

Alexander – the Sly-as-a-fox award. Quiet but deadly – he’s enjoyed the game of killer and being able to catch people out. Always a sneaky glance here or a quick peek around the corner to check the status of his quarry.

Frankie – the man-with-the-chat award. Never lost for words and always keen on giving his opinion. Has now finished his Rescue diver course and just needs to learn to read his dive computer from time to time.

Mark Lawrence – All the gear, but just occasionally….no idea prize. Got a little confused with the concept of a depth limit and very nearly needed to practice his self-rescue skills, but an excellent snorkeller with the dolphins and a reliable buddy.

Lauren – The loyalty award. Laura-the-Ramora quickly found her favourite place on the boat (Wherever Elliot was) and despite the teasing has stuck to the task of always being there for her man. Hang on a minute – I’ve just looked up and she’s caressing Charlie! I’m so confused.

Harriet – The Haut-couture award. “The boat is my catwalk and I shall strut my stuff” is Harriet’s mantra and by the sound of Charlie’s jaw hitting the floor along with a rather loud “wow” when she walked past it obviously hit the mark

Ashleigh – The charmer award. Whether it be the boat crew, her instructor Melvin or her dive buddy, Ashleigh has her men wrapped around her little finger and only occasionally has to shout REALLY LOUDLY to get them to play her game.

Mark – The David Bailey photography medal. “Have I told you I’ve got a new lens for my camera” was Mark’s oft quoted line before the trip but he seems to have spent most of the time taking pictures of his hands, in some bizarre way to set the white balance. Does it work? No. Our one chance for a nice group shot has come out completely purple. Some time on photoshop beckons….

Melvin – The Mr Bouncy prize. Melvin loves the mornings. He’s woken up at about 4am by the sun (he didn’t get a bed on the boat) and so by the time anyone else surfaces he’s bored and bouncing around – I’d like to say the kids appreciate it, but they are normally still in a coma.

Alice – The eye-candy award. Alice was saved from harassment in the first few days by passing for a student, but once they realised she was fair game, she’s been hunted on a daily basis. Some times they are subtle and sometimes a little more in your face (literally) she has entertained the crew whilst keeping her dignity intact – well most of the time.

Cat – The triumph over adversity prize. Some may have let a severed tendon, recent surgery and a cast on her wrist prevent her from diving. But with the assistance of THE CLAW she has done all the diving she wanted and with the help of a certain suitor she managed to get her kit off every day.

Jules (Julia) – Game on award. Be it cross dressing for his 100th dive, man handled by the crew, baking in the ‘scorchio’ sun and keeping all 19 kids (and staff!) calm, he is game on through and through. His ‘up for it’ attitude is infectious, even at 30m underwater when taking on the challenge of providing running commentary on the increasingly occurring peacock behaviour of the group. Legend. Thank you for being such a awesome leader.

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