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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Growing up far from the sea, we didn't eat that much fish and it was always frozen. Since we've been sailing we've been eating fish a lot more often. Here in Indonesia, we've been eating it a lot. Unlike most cruisers, we don’t fish for it ourselves, but, it's available on every menu, usually grilled with some kind of delicious flavouring. 

As a nation of islands sprinkled along the equator, fishing is obviously a large part of Indonesian life. Activity we have seen here ranges from a single man with a net, to a larger fishing boat with a crew of perhaps twenty very young men (more like boys) aboard. 

We haven’t seen any huge factory fishing boats. Just as well, as there are so many fishermen (it’s a male preserve only), boats and FADs about, that the fish don’t seem to have much of a chance as it is. So, what is a FAD? It’s a Fish Aggregating Device and they are a bane for sailors. Most of them are unlit at night and are impossible to see. They weren’t limited to any particular distance offshore either. We started seeing a lot of these floating raft type structures twenty miles off the north coast of Bali. Not a thing you want to run into in the dark.

Inshore, FADs range in size from a few sticks in the water, like an old-fashioned weir, to elaborate structures with built-in nets that can be raised and lowered. Here are a few examples of ones we saw. Each island seemed to have its own style of building.

At least the larger structures have lights on their perimeter poles.

This A-frame style was only seen at one island, very impressive.

In some places there were on-water villages of them.

Boats also came in every shape, size and colour. Some were beautifully decorated, others very basic like this boat, of which we saw many. You might think that rod coming out the side of the boat is some kind of net, or, fishing gear. Actually, it’s the shaft of what looked like an old car engine, mounted transversely athwartships!. The noise of these was incredible, but, what a way to recycle.

These lookouts wouldn’t pass western-style health and safety requirements! Wonder how many people are lost overboard each year? Manual net handling on a rickety, rocking boat, in a black night, at sea, must be an incredibly dangerous profession.

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Saturday, 7 October 2017

Every inland sea we’ve sailed on has had its own set of challenges. The Java Sea was no exception. We knew we were in the ‘wrong’ season (SE monsoon) to be travelling southeast, but, it was later in the season and the winds should be lighter. We’d been watching the weather in the area for weeks and every day had the same forecast, 10-15 knot winds and less than 1m swell. We thought we'd be able to motor into it if we had to. The run down from Singapore was straightforward and quite enjoyable. We anchored at a few pretty anchorages along the way. All was good until we had to make the left turn to enter the Java Sea. We then got smacked in the face with 20+ knot headwinds and 2m seas. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was enough to stop us from getting where we wanted to go in a timely fashion. One night we were in near gale conditions with gusts into the 30s.

An inland sea isn’t like the open ocean with its large, but fairly gentle swell. Inland seas set up short, sharp waves, especially when they are shallow, that knock you back. You can only approach the waves at an angle. Combined with additional Java Sea constraints of many islands and lots of shipping and fishing activity, it can make for very difficult routing decisions. 

Two big disappointments soon became apparent, we weren’t going to be able to make it to Kumai, Kalimantan (Borneo) to visit Camp Leakey, the orangutan sanctuary established by Dr. Birute Galdikas in 1971. Ever since I’d watched a piece on 60 Minutes, years ago, about the work of Dr. Galdikas, I’d wanted to visit. We had planned to arrange a tour with Orangutan Green Tours. They have many different tours available. The one we'd hoped for was a river trip by traditional boat with a jungle hike into the camp. Now, however, it was going to be impossible to sail there. It was a very big disappointment that we just couldn’t make it. 

The second disappointment was having to miss seeing the Komodo dragons, on the island of Komodo, just east of Bali. We realized that with our slow progress this side trip would add more than a week to our voyage and so we’d also have to give it a miss. 

It’s never wise to have deadlines when sailing, but, sometimes there are external pressures that can’t be changed. In our case, the best month to travel south along the coast of western Australia is September. We were hoping to take advantage of some of that timeframe. The official cyclone season in that area starts November 1, so, we had to be well south in Australia before that started. In addition, we had visa ‘issues’. In Indonesia, they’ve recently improved their yacht clearance requirements and it’s much, much better than it used to be. However, visas can still be a problem. We paid for a thirty day ‘visa on arrival’ which could be renewed for another thirty days, if necessary. Sounds good, but, you had to be at a port of entry seven days before expiry to give enough time for the renewal processing, so, effectively you only have twenty-one days. More pressure to be somewhere specific that you don’t need when sailing in tricky conditions.

We were mostly motoring and needed to get more fuel. It was problematic where to go. The winds dictated that we go south, to the island of Java. We hadn’t planned to go there, but, actually ended up with a good night sail directly into the port of Semirang. It’s a large, regional town, but, it has no facilities for yachts. We ended up anchoring in a very shallow, open roadstead in about 20 knot winds trying to take the dinghy in to get diesel. It was impossible and we had to leave and try somewhere else. The brief taxi ride we took through town to get groceries was our first exposure to a ‘full-on’ Asian city and it was an experience to see. People, animals, motorscooters, traffic and more traffic. The town looked fairly prosperous. It’s definitely not on the tourist circuit. Actually, we became the tourist attraction. Some ladies on a tour bus approached us and we thought they wanted us to take their picture, but, no, they wanted to take our picture, with them! It seemed very weird.

Back at sea we were able to sail north for a while before we head to go east once again and were once again blocked, with very little fuel. What to do now? There was an island archipelago about thirty miles back, which meant we could sail there and we decided to head there and cross our fingers that they had fuel.

We landed at Karimunjawa and are we glad we did. It turned out to be the highlight of our few brief stops in Indonesia. It’s an archipelago of twenty-seven scenic islands. Only about 10,000 people live there and tourism is only in its nascent stages. How refreshing to see no banana boats, or, endless parasailing boats buzzing around. It’s very much a traditional village, with animals everywhere. The call to prayer at dusk was haunting as it echoed out across the water to where we were anchored.

We anchored and went ashore, landing at what looked like a small resort.

Maybe because we felt so beaten up after our ordeals of the last few days, but, it just seemed like a little bit of paradise. Omah Alchy Cottages is a very, very modest family-run ‘resort’ with only four cottages, some of which have decks that overhang the water. They have an open air restaurant and the food was delicious. It was the kind of place where maybe it would be nice to just get away from it all for a few weeks at a very good price. There are excellent diving opportunities around the islands and there is a very pretty, colourful, coral reef right in front of the resort where you could snorkel right from your verandah if you wished. The resort also has a catamaran available for charter. It would be an ideal location for a week’s charter, with beautiful beaches and no competition for anchorage space.

It seems every blog post I write has to have a list of boat maintenance issues. This post is no exception. We hope we get to the end of problems soon. With a brand-new engine, the last thing we thought we’d have on the trip is engine problems, but, we did. There was lots of coughing and sputtering going on, not the engine as such, but the fuel. We changed out all the fuel filters (discovering a cracked filter cover in the process), but, the problem soon came back. We couldn’t get above 2,000 rpm. 

Once we got to Kurimunjawa, the resort manager at Omah Alchy Cottages, KoKo, was able to contact the owner of the only gas station on the island and arrange for us to get our tank cleaned and refilled. Promptly, the next morning a fishing boat arrived to lead us into the dock (local knowledge required!) and we had two men manually removing, with a hand pump and jerry cans, 400 litres of diesel, cleaning the tank and refuelling with 1,000 litres of new fuel. What a job. There was a lot of water in the bottom of the tank, so, the problem was obvious and the engine is running smoothly now.

The fuel was delivered by this flash-looking motorcycle 'truck'.

It was reassuring to see that, other than the water, the bottom of the tank was very clean.

In addition, we had the following issues:
1. There is only one spot on the entire deck where there are screws that have been through-bolted. Of course, they leaked, badly. We were taking a lot of water over the bow crashing into waves and had to keep pumping the bilge manually.

2.      The bilge looked like it had been absolutely dry for years, but, with a regular influx of water,, problems started  appearing. We heard a crackling noise and were horrified to find an exposed wire for the watermaker where the electrical tape had started to disintegrate causing a bare wire to come in contact with the water, yikes!

3.      The 24v refrigerator doesn’t like to be heeled over and stops working when it is.

4.      The chartplotter at the helm froze up a couple of times and eventually the touchscreen capability started working only intermittently. Dry/wet screen, clean/dirty screen, wet/dry fingers etc. just didn’t help. Sometimes it works for twenty touches, sometimes you can’t get past the first one. Just proves what I thought of touchscreen technology on a boat. The remote keypad I installed only works with the plotter at the nav station as it needs a power supply. At least that is still working, for now.
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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

As mentioned in the last post, we enjoyed our visit to Singapore very much. Our primary touring day was overcast, which suited us just fine. We did the hop-on, hop-off bus tour which was really good value. The old and new sides of the city were apparent everywhere.

There was a great Chinatown, both old....

and new....

Little India was very colourful.

There were many attractions, but, we only had time for one. We chose Gardens by the Bay, two huge glass domes, one the Flower Dome...

the other the Cloud Forest dome, replete with a man-made waterfall.

One of the benefits of living on a boat is that you can't accumulate much stuff, there's no room. So, even though the shopping possibilities were endless and even we couldn't fail but to be impressed by the plethora of quality shopping malls, we didn't buy anything. Food is another matter, however. Maybe it was having been on boat rations for a while, but, the food seemed just amazing, every cuisine imaginable and there was a restaurant every few steps. We enjoyed lots of good food. We also went crazy in the Marks and Spencer food hall and stocked up on all our favourites!

One thing we didn't like about Singapore was the amount of tourists. This was the view of the famous half-lion/half-fish fountain at 9 a.m. Not much room left and we chose to just view it from a distance.

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It wasn't without some trepidation that we headed south towards the Malacca Strait and Singapore. After all, just a few years ago, this area had a fearsome reputation for piracy. There are still commercial piracy incidents taking place regularly, but, none against a yacht for a decade. Our insurance policy actually excludes travel through the Malacca Strait, but, there's no other easy way to get through. When we got close to the start of the traffic separation scheme, we were interviewed about our boat and crew details on the VHF radio by a Malaysian warship, just routine, but, it was somewhat reassuring when they said if you have any trouble just to call them on 16.

It is the most traveled shipping strait in the world and the sheer volume of traffic could seem daunting. We've crossed the English Channel a number of times, been through the Kiel Canal and through very heavy shipping in the North Sea and this seemed comparable in terms of traffic separation zones and monitoring, so, we weren't too worried. Our plan was to cross over to the south side of the Strait at a very narrow point before we got into Singapore proper and just stay out of the way. The night before the crossing we anchored at Pulau Pisang. It was a very calm night and we enjoyed watching the endless stream of ships on the horizon as the sun set. These ships are actually spaced quite far apart, they were usually much closer together. In the morning, they were coming at us four abreast.

Our strategy went well, crossing the Strait at the requisite right angle meant it was only about 5 miles wide at our crossing point. We got across the northbound lane easily, but, then got stuck in the middle and had to wait almost an hour for a decent break in the southbound traffic to enable us to get through. This wasn't a time to be impatient, we just had to wait for the right moment. Once across, the rest of the journey was uneventful, we hugged the shipping lane without going into it and only had a few confusing encounters with tugs, high speed ferries and local fishing boats.
The other reason for hugging the south, Indonesian side, was so that we could anchor overnight. You're not allowed to stop and anchor in Singapore waters (or sail, for that matter). We anchored and had another calm night. There was only about thirty miles to go until we reached our destination, Nongsa Point Marina, in Batam, Indonesia. From there we could catch a ferry to Singapore. It only takes an hour and is a lot more cost and time-effective than trying to take your own boat into Singapore, especially now that they are requiring yachts to hire an agent for in/outbound clearance.

Visibility from seaward wasn't great, but, the first view of Singapore was still an impressive sight.

The marina turned out to be expensive, but, rural, quiet and very nice.

We rested for a couple of days and then headed over to the glitz and glamour that awaited us just across the water. We weren't sure what to expect. We'd booked two hotel nights at the Four Points Sheraton on points (thanks once again Amex/Starwood) and couldn't wait for two air-conditioned sleeps.

Actually, we liked Singapore very much. It was a fascinating blend of the old, new and four cultures: Chinese, Indian, Malay and British. It is as spotlessly clean as everybody says it is. Everything seems new and prosperous with lots of construction and land reclamation. The old and new can clearly be seen in this juxtaposition.

The Marina Bay Sands, a multi-billion dollar development was just stunning, from every angle. The cantilevered observation deck is an engineering marvel. It was very impressive.

The landscaping was impeccable everywhere, whether at ground level, or, above.

One thing that surprised us was that Singapore is also a river city with a river (more like a canal really) running through it. From the hotel, there was an excellent, 8km walking path, lined with bars and restaurants with great buildings and street art. This bronze sculpture was stunning.

There was so much to see, I'll share more photos in the next post....
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Monday, 11 September 2017

The week we spent at Telaga Harbor Marina, north Langkawi, wasn't entirely spent on boat repairs. We did a bit of tourist activity as well and were glad to finally get around the island. We visited Eagle Square, at the main town of Kuah. There were real sea eagles wheeling around the bay that put this replica one to shame, but, it's huge and a very noticeable landmark when approaching from seaward.

We travelled up the cable car, reputedly the steepest one in the world to get this view of the marina. Gjoa is in there somewhere.

Malysia, or, maybe just Langkawi, is very laid-back about some things. We were able to rent a car for  < C$30 for the whole day. We didn't have to show a driver's licence, credit card, id and didn't have to sign anything. You're just handed a key and told to put a little gas into it before bringing it back. It even had working air conditioning. There's probably no insurance either, but, we tried not to think about that. We used the car to full advantage, touring the island and stocking up on our provisions.

Ever since we started cruising, I'd been hearing about New Zealand canned butter, but, had started to think it was a sailing myth as I could never find it. They had it here and we stocked up.

Along the way, we enjoyed a delicious Chinese lunch at an open air restaurant for about C$7 for both of us, including soft drinks. Then, we hit the shops. There are a couple of western-style supermarkets here, but, for other items, it's shopping how it used to be. You go into the store and tell the person at the counter what you want and they go and retrieve it. After wandering miles around and around, frustratingly huge, home improvement stores like Bunnings, in Australia, looking for a few screws or something, it seemed refreshing.They always seemed to have what we wanted, or, if not, would happily refer us to another store where we could get it.

Although we can hardly say we saw a lot of the country, only Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, we found that the longer we stayed, the more intrigued by it we became. Malaysia doesn't seem to have a very high profile (except when they lose a couple of airliners), but, it seems to have a lot going for it. The two large, remote, northern provinces, Sabah and Sarawak, which cover most of the northern half of the island of Borneo (Indonesia occupies the southern half and they call it Kalimantan) seemed especially intriguing with their many national parks and tropical rainforests. The wildlife sounds incredible, from the only bear species in SE Asia, the Malayan sun bear, to tigers, civet cats, leopards, many monkey species and the Borneo pygmy elephant. Birds, of course, are also there in great number and variety. There are resorts in the parks and they are fairly accessible. To go by yacht, unfortunately, requires participation in a rally that has an obligatory night curfew and a military escort through the piracy areas close to the Philippines.

Along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, down which we'll be travelling soon, there are also a couple of highlights. Georgetown, on Penang island, is a Unesco world heritage site and Malacca, the historic fishing village located on the Malacca Strait. We had hoped to stop at these places, but, given that each would take a few days, or more, to do properly and would also complicate our boat status we'll probably just travel through.

All the locals we interacted with have been very polite, soft-spoken and somewhat self-effacing. However I think it would take a very long time, if ever, to become part of their community. On the surface, some things were very charming, like this street sign, which we're not sure what it means.

Then, there are signs like this where the picture looks like the authorities really mean business.

Google translates the words as:

The restricted area of the intruder will be prosecuted"

When we first arrived, it was Ramadan. We were quite shocked when we went into the local McDonalds for an ice cream cone to see a large sign on the door stating:

"All Muslims are forbidden to eat at McDonalds during the fasting hours of Ramadan and can be charged by the local authorities." 

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Saturday, 9 September 2017

We filled our water tank (take note of this, it becomes significant as I'll explain in a minute), topped up our diesel and left Telaga Harbor Marina for Kuah where we were going to check out of Malaysia. Checking out in Kuah meant that we would not be allowed to stop again in Malaysia and would need to travel to our next port of Batam, Indonesia (just across the Strait from Singapore). So, we planned to do a few overnight sails and anchor at a few places without going into a port, or, ashore. The nicest anchorage, by far, was this one at Pangkor Laut, where we were adjacent to a very beautiful, luxurious-looking little resort.

We spent a full day and night here, but, we weren't lazing around enjoying the scenery and gorgeous little sand beach. It proved to be just another one of those places where, as sailors say, "you get to fix your boat in a lot of beautiful, exotic places"

So, once more to back up to the beginning. We left Kuah and headed south. We had been expecting to have to motor all the way to Singapore, if not all the way to where we'd jump off for Australia, due to the constant headwinds at this time of year. It's not really the "right" season to be going this way, but, luckily with our new engine in this boat, we are able to make decent progress against some chop, tidal current and headwind, which, in our previous boats, would have stopped us dead. The wind is light, only around 5-10 knots, up to 20 or so, more in the short squalls we're experiencing. Even just 20 knots though seems to set up a nasty short swell which can be 2.5/3.5 metres.

First day out, things were going fine, even though a squall was coming our way and the visibility had decreased significantly. Around noon, we had dolphins around the bow, always welcome visitors. G said I'll just pop down to make a cup of tea. All was well until he quickly came back and said there's no water? Remember we'd just filled the tank before we left, where had it gone? We opened the engine room and there it was, all 350 litres sloshing around all the running equipment. The bilge pumps in this boat also need a redesign (it's on the list). There are four pumps and many pickups, but, only one is on a float switch and it's not the lowest one in the boat. All the others need to be turned on at the panel when needed. We turned the engine room pump on and the pump that we had tested a few weeks ago decided not to work. It probably just needed priming, but, we were more concerned with just getting the water out. Luckily, we'd bought a 6L manual vacuum pump the day before we left. We stopped the boat in the pouring rain and started manually bailing. Three hours later and around sixty repeats of fill up the pump, take it up the stairs and dump overboard we had most of the water out. What had caused the problem? Take a look at this. Not one, not two, but, three hose clamps in a row had given out! Two of the three clamps are clearly marked USA, so, we can't blame poor quality Chinese steel. We're not sure how this could have happened. Were the clamps overtightened? Why were there three on that join anyway, surely two should be enough? Too much water pressure? Anyway, all hose clamps are now suspect and we've got another item for 'the list'.

We continued on our way knowing that we'd missed our window to anchor that night and would just have to keep going, like it or not. A few hours later, the next mishap occurred. This was getting tiresome. The toilet totally blocked up 100%. We've never had an electric toilet before and we'd noticed that it didn't seem to be working too well, but, weren't sure how it was supposed to work, so, had just put it on "the list'" to be looked at, either a rebuild, or, replace. Now, however, it became an immediate priority. Having to "bucket it and chuck it" isn't fun. Almost a full day was spent in the anchorage dismantling, cleaning and reinstalling the toilet. Didn't work. It had to be the hose. Marine head hoses and outlets are notorious for filling up with calcium deposits and hoses should be replaced regularly. We took this one off and because we didn't have spare hose had to lay it on deck and beat it with a hammer to break up the deposits, then, ream it out with a broomstick. After reinstallation, the toilet flushed with incredible force, obviously the way it was supposed to work. Hose replacement has now been added to "the list".

It's true that at some points during these mini-dramas (which don't seem so mini when you're living them) we were feeling very disheartened  and wondering whether a return to cruising was the right decision. It's really been just maintenance issues so far though and we will get ahead of them at some point. On the bright side, a lot of things are still working: the electronics are talking to each other, the autopilot works, the windlass works, the fridge works (freezer not so much), we've tried the watermaker, the washing machine and the shower and they all work. It feels so incredibly luxurious to be able to shower on the boat. We have tried the hot water heater, but, it's not really needed, the water at air temperature is hot enough!

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Thursday, 24 August 2017

This picture looks like it might be Thailand doesn't it? It's not. It's northern Langkawi, Malaysia, which is where we ended up for a week, at Telaga Harbour Marina, doing boat repairs rather than going on our planned shakedown cruise to Phuket, Thailand.

But, back to the beginning. We were excited to leave Rebak Island Marina and for the first night out headed to an anchorage just a few short miles away. It was idyllic. We sat on our sugar scoop stern and dangled our feet in the warm water. There was a light breeze blowing, picturesque fishing boats were anchored in the bay and we looked forward to our first night at anchor on our new boat.

It wasn't to be. We had three 'sumatras' blow through in the night. These are sudden, short squalls usually lasting no more than an hour, but, they can pack fierce winds, up to 50 knots. The first blew through around 8 p.m. and we watched the deluge with mild interest. Around two a.m., when the wind generator started whining like an aircraft's jet engine, we knew this squall was going to be a little different. The wind only went to about 35 knots, but, it was enough to whip up a good swell and we started to drag. If it had gone to 50 knots, we probably would have dragged right across the bay. As it was, we went about .3 of a mile. Luckily, we had the sea room. Replacing our ground tackle is near the top of our list for a number of reasons, but, this just confirmed it should be done sooner rather than later. The current primary anchor is a stainless steel CQR which must have cost a fortune, but, stainless steel or not, from past experience, the CQR design just isn't efficient. It's shaped like a plough and even though we'd set the anchor well and backed it down, when the wind picks up, a CQR just acts like the plough that it is and makes a nice furrow as it travels along the bottom.

In the morning we did our usual boat checks before leaving. Part of this was checking our DC isolation switch. To our horror, instead of two pretty little red lights glowing, one was flashing on and off each time the boat rolled in the swell. This was not good. An aluminium boat, if wired properly, has a floating ground which means nothing is grounded to the hull. Two red lights are good, meaning there is a continuous circuit. One light means that something, somewhere, is shorting to the hull. Stray current corrosion like this can cause the hull to corrode very quickly with results no aluminium boat owner wants to think about.

We opened the panel to see if maybe it was just a loose wire and to our even greater horror, four wires came loose and just dropped out of their slot, number 102. We tried to put them back where we thought they came from, two wires touched and there was an arc. The first obvious result was that the battery monitor had gone dead. Then, after trying a few things, we realized that all our 12V devices did not seem to be getting the correct voltage. We traced this to our 24V-12V DC/DC converter, but, it wasn't obvious what was wrong with it. After all, it had been working fine the day before. At this point, we weren't sure what the issue was and decided, rather than risk further damage, to proceed the old-fashioned way, without electrics, until we could get to the bottom of it. Out came the paper chart and hand-bearing compass and we limped our way into Kuah Harbour. We anchored there while we tried to find a qualified marine electrician which seemed impossible in a place like this. However, we got a line on one at Telaga Harbour marina, about twelve miles to the north and we set off the next morning. We arrived Friday, they were so busy they couldn't even come to look until Tuesday. We settled in for a quiet weekend and tried not to worry. Anyway, to make a long story short, Manu and Wolfgang, from Blue Shelter - Langkawi Yacht Multi Services, very quickly got to the bottom of it. Both the 24V-12V converter and isolation switch had been wired incorrectly at some point in the past. They were able to rewire them both and check that all the voltages were ok etc. The battery monitor and converter weren't 'fried' and they both came back to life.

Then, the bad news, there really was a short to the hull and they didn't have time to find it as it could take days, so, we were left to find it ourselves. We were extremely lucky and found it right away. The start battery for the new engine had been loosely installed and with the boat rolling the connection must have come loose causing the intermittent fault.

We were thrilled when we got our two lights back!

So, it all turned out for the best even though it didn't feel like it at the time. We got a much better understanding of our electrical system which is what a shakedown cruise should be all about, this one was just a little shorter than planned.

Further research on Phuket sounded like it wasn't really our kind of place anyway. One of the popular beaches needs to have a beach traffic controller, for all the day boats disgorging tourists onto it and they were charging a landing fee for each body landed. The cruising guide descriptions for all the scenic locations mentioned lots of rolling, boat noise and wakes. We decided we'd rather spend any extra time we had in Indonesia, rather than Thailand. So, we're heading south immediately.

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