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Socorro - The Rest of the Story

Discussion in 'Rocky Mountain Region' started by Dr. Mark, Feb 21, 2009.

  1. Dr. Mark

    Dr. Mark Master Instructor

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lakewood, CO
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    My wife, Debbie, had some additional info she wanted to add about our December Socorro trip:

    I wanted to add a little more about the Socorro trip. One of our divemasters was Sten. He was a huge guy from Sweden and described himself as a Viking. He was over 6 feet tall. When we dived in Galapagos, we went to the dive sites on small inflatable zodiacs. After the dive, they would haul your scuba gear on board first and then you had to try to pull yourself up so the boat attendant could grab you with two hands and haul you onto the boat. On this trip, Sten would reach down with one hand and pull you on with little effort. When Sten got onto the boat, he climbed in with all his gear on, with no assistance. He was very impressive with a great Swedish accent. The diving at Socorro and San Benedicto was fairly easy diving. The mantas were wonderful.

    Now we were ready to hear about Roca Partida.
    We arrived at Roca Partida and met in the salon for our dive briefing. Roca Partida is basically just a rock sticking out of the water in the Pacific with no other land in sight for miles. Is uninhabited and looks kind of like some snow covered peaks in the Rocky Mountains. It actually is not snow, it is covered in bird guano (and birds). I think it is about 250 miles from Cabo San Lucas. Sten explained that there are often strong ocean currents and that you must always keep the rock in sight. If you get too far from the rock, you could get carried out to sea by a current and lost. We all had safety sausages and dive alerts. We actually had signal flags that Mark ordered from some place in England and the divemasters said they were better than the signal tubes. Sten said that if you did get carried out to sea, there was a real danger that you would not be found. No one would know you were missing until all the divers were back and you weren't there. By that time, you could be miles away. There are no other boats out there to assist with a search so the Nautilus would have to pull anchor to search for you. He said that if you were not found by dark, you would not be found. There are a lot of sharks in the area. He said it was too far out for helicopters. That was fine. Sten says to stay close to the rock so we will stay close to the rock. No problem.

    Then he tells us not to stay too close to the rock because it is covered with black sea urchins. He told us that when you get close to the rock, there is often quite a bit of surge and that you can find yourself being thrust into the rock and impaled by these urchins. He said that urchin injuries can be anything from minor to serious and that if an urchin spine gets into a blood vessel, it can go to your heart and this can be fatal. He also pointed out that we are too far out for helicopter evacuation and that it is a 20 boat ride to get to any medical care. OK, we had it figured out now. Stay close to the rock, but not too close.

    Sten then told us about what he called the Vortex of Death. He said that there are often unusual currents around the rock. When a current hits the rock, it has to go some where. It might go up, down or sideways. You might encounter upwellings or down wellings. He said you have to keep a close eye on your depth because it is hundreds of feet deep and it is easy to get distracted looking at the sharks and get pulled a little deep by a downwelling, the air in your BC compresses and you sink more. You should not get bent because it is a 20 hour boat ride to the nearest chamber and it is too afar out for helicopters. He said the currents can be quite strong on the two ends of the rock. He said that the Vortex of Death is rare but it has been known to occur at this site. He described it as kind of like a sideways tornado spinning horizontally through the water, out to sea. He said that as the bubbles of the divers go toward the surface, the bubbles will get caught in the vortex, making it visible. The bubbles trapped in the vortex give the appearance of a horizontal silver ribbon in the water headed out to sea. He said that if we see that, we should not go close to check it out. He said that on one occasion, two divers were trapped in the vortex and could not break free, even with their BCDs fully inflated. He entered the vortex and grabbed one divers hand and the two of them got to the other diver so that they were all linked together. He said it was like being in the spin cycle of a washing machine sideways. They all inflated their BCDs and when he got to the top of the tunnel, he took a deep breath and kicked hard and was able to break out of the vortex, pulling the other 2 divers with him. They were able to dump air and make a safe ascent but they were pulled quite a distance out to sea. The boat found them and picked them up.

    So, if we survived the currents, the Vortex of death and don't get impaled on the urchins, there are always the sharks. This area has so many sharks that you don't wonder if you will see a shark on your dive, it is how many and what kind. Sten gave us a brief course on how to tell a silvertip from a white tip and a silky shark from a Galapagos shark. He didn't need to tell us how to identify the hammerheads.

    Now that Sten had told us about anything that could possibly go wrong (with a cute Swedish accent) we were ready to dive!!! For the first dive, they dropped us on the west side of the rock. Starting at about 30 feet we began to see shallow caves full of white tip reef sharks. They looked they were snuggled up with each other like a litter of puppies. Sometimes there would be 5 or 6 and sometimes a dozen. They did not seem to mind the divers and they would let you come fairly close and take pictures without getting spooked away. Occasionally you would see one or two swimming by. There were some very large green morays. Overall, a great dive.

    For the next dive, we decided to go to the west tip of the rock. We were told that there was a cleaning station at about 100 feet where hammerheads go to be cleaned. There was a bit of current but nothing bad. I was starting to doubt that they were there because we were coming up on 100 feet and did not see any sharks, however, as we reached 105 feet , they appeared as if out of a mist. There were hammerheads everywhere as far as I could see. Mark and I were diving on a nitrox mix of 32% O2 (maybe closer to 33%) so I enjoyed the scenery for a while, keeping a close eye on my depth since I was close to my max for this blend of nitrox. When I decided to go a little shallower, I swam upwards and looked at my depth. I was still at 105 feet . I swam upwards some more and was still at 105 feet . I inflated my BCD as swam upwards again and was still at 105 feet so I inflated my BCD some more and swam up until I was at 90 feet . I heard my overpressure relief valve on my BCD dump air so I knew my BC was fully inflated. I don't think I filled it all the way. I think I filled it up considerable and it expanded going from 105 to 90. Anyway, based on that, I think there was a downward current there. Mark went to 125 feet and his computer said that his PO2 was 1.56. PADI recommends no more than 1.4 but TDI allows up to 1.6 so I guess he was OK. Mark said he did not feel a downward current and I didn't feel it either but I think a mild current was there. Through discussions with the other divers on the boat, I learned that one diver went to 145 feet and another went to 155 feet , unintentionally. They did not think it was due to current so much as just being distracted by the sharks and wanting to get closer. A diver from England went to 40 meters and said he had to swim an upward breaststroke with his BCD fully inflated to get up. Luckily the divers who went to 145 and 155 feet were not on nitrox. Everyone was fine. There were no adverse affects other than the diver who went to 155 was locked out by his computer until the next day. After that, everyone kept a close eye on their depth and there were no problems. There was an Italian on board who did get pulled out to sea and the dingys could not find him. We had to pull anchor and search but found him fairly quickly.

    We did a few dives to the west end and then decided to go to the east end. That is an area where other types of sharks hang out. We saw silky sharks, Galapagos and silvertips. I really liked the silver tips. Of course there were also white tip reef sharks. They just seemed to be everywhere.

    Before we went to Roca Partida we were in an area where silky sharks are known to feed on flying fish. Sten said that if they showed up, we would have the opportunity to do a night snorkel with them. He said we could not have a flashlight for the dive because there had been incidents where the sharks try to take the flashlight and you could get pulled down by your wrist lanyard or could get your hand bitten. Hmmmm, get in the water in snorkel gear at night with feeding sharks and no flashlight??? I decided to pass. Since I would not have a light, I would not be able to see much anyway and I decided it would be more entertaining to watch those who had decided to participate. Mark (being more of an adrenaline junkie) decided he was up for it. Sten and some of the crew started trying to draw the sharks by throwing a float to splash on the surface repeatedly. They also took an empty water bottle and held it in the water, crackling it. I had seen this done in the Bahamas and for some reason it does seem to work. We did get one silky shark but he swam away. We hoped he went to tell his buddies to join him. Sten went on to brief us on procedures. He said that we should slip in the water quietly and avoid splashing. He said that if the sharks got too rowdy, he would say, "Everyone out of the water". He said that we should quietly swim to the ladder and exit the water. He finished his briefing and we still had no sharks. Suddenly Sten jumped in the air, did a cannonball into the water and began splashing and thrashing about. (Still no sharks.) Some were disappointed but I felt that Sten had gone above and beyond the call of duty trying to get us some sharks. It was a full moon and the flying fish were not flying so that may have had something to do with it.

    All in all a great trip!!
     
  2. Waterbaby09

    Waterbaby09 Angel Fish

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    Just wanted to add that this review - although it is so well written, it does at first glance make it seem like both Sten and Roca Partida are a bit dodgy!

    Nothing could be further from the truth! We dived twice with Nautilus and Sten was on board both times. His tales of the rare times things go wrong are only thrown in to make sure that people are listening - and all done with a great sense of humour.

    As for Roca - well, it's the best big animal diving we have ever done, breathtaking, magical. It's worth thinking carefully about the possibility of currents (minimal on our trip) and depth. We decided not to dive nitrox knowing it would cut down our time a bit but then again we did go well over 130 feet for just a few minutes on each dive.

    Apart from that, we agree with you guys - this is one wonderful dive trip!
     
  3. lfelix

    lfelix Garibaldi

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Los Angeles, CA
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    Has anyone heard about the woman who died while diving at Roca Partida in the Revillagigedos (aka Socorro islands) in February 2009? I ran across a couple of postings about this on the web and was wondering if it was true. If it is true, this is very tragic.
     
  4. MikeSK

    MikeSK Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Madison Wi.
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    Awesome report! thank you.

    I'm looking at Soccoro as one possibility next year, and the info on currents and depth is cool to have.
     
  5. Doubler

    Doubler Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives:
    Location: Bremerton, WA
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    Sten dodgy? I think not. I have been diving since 1972, have over 1000 dives and by far Sten is the best diver I have ever seen and I was taught cave diving by Wes Skiles a darn good diver in his own right. That Vortex of Death thing is real. I was on the dive when the incident described happened. Two divers, a couple from San Diego were dropped about 20 feet out from the Rock. One later discribed what looked like a water rope undalating up and down about 20 feet below the surface. As they approached they were suddenly and forceably draggged down spinning out of control. Sten, without hesitation, swam in grabbed them, and pulled them out. To this day I am convinced that if Sten was not there this would have been tragic. These two divers were not rookies and had done all they could to get out of the situation to no avail. After he extracted them they were on the surface talking about it and Sten says " Are we going to talk or dive." But he does say that a lot. That poor woman that died at Roca a few weeks back more than likely got caught in one of these down currents.
     
  6. debbiediver

    debbiediver Guest

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lakewood Colorado USA
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    Sten is anything BUT dodgy!! My husband wrote this original post (Welive2dive and I (DebbieDiver) wrote the addendum. I definitely did not mean to give that impression. Sten is amazing, as are all the divemasters and crew on The Nautilus Explorer. They are very safety conscious. They made sure every diver had a signal tube and a dive alert horn. If you didn't have those, they gave you one for the duration. They were very thorough and safety minded. I felt as though we were in really good hands. When a person takes scuba classes, the classes prepare you for anything that might go wrong. You hope that you will never have a free flow or an out of air situation but if you do, you are prepared. I think Sten did a great job of preparing us just in case we encountered unusual currents. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is true that he does warn you about getting too far away from the rock and warns you about currents but that is in order to prevent problems and I agree that he does it serious but with a lot of humor (and a really cute accent). Like I said, we didn't encounter the "vortex of death" but I was glad to have been told about it. I understand it is a rare occurrence. Everyone had a great time and there were no real problems. A couple of people went deeper than they should have but they admitted that was their own fault. The dives were just so amazing. I didn't talk much about how incredible the mantas were. Certain mantas seemed to like certain divers and would approach them over and over. The one that liked me was a large chevron manta with a small wound on his back. We called him Scarback. A smaller black manta liked my husband and they spent a lot of quality time together. They are so incredible that when they would approach me, I could feel my heart rate increase just because of their awesome presence. The sharks were amazing too. This was probably one of the best dive trips, if not THE best and that is taking into consideration that I did Galapagos last year, as well. I definitely felt safe and in good hands. We did not have any problem with the currents at all other than the one dive where there was a MILD downward current. As I described, it didn't pull us down, it just took a little effort to get shallower. On the tips of Roca Partida, there was a bit of current but you had the choice of going around and then it resolved or you could turn and stay on the same side of the rock. I am really upset that anyone thought I was speaking badly of Sten. He is probably the best diver/divemaster I have ever seen. I agree that I think Sten saved that couple from the vortex. He is an amazing divemaster with amazing dive skills and knowledge and amazing strength. He also has personality. He is sooooo funny and is really fun to hang around with, in and out of the water. The other divemaster was pretty impressive, as well. I can't remember his name off the top of my head but he was great. He was wonderful at finding critters. We have full face masks with communication modules and when they were pulling our gear onto the dingy, the mask came off and sank. We did not realize it was gone until we were preparing for our next dive. The divemaster knew where he had picked us up and went down and found it. This was a pretty deep area so we were impressed. Someone else lost a fin while getting onto the boat and he found that too. He also recovered a lost weight pocket. Both the divemasters paid close attention to the divers. I had not heard of someone dying at Roca Partida. I looked now did find some information on the internet about the woman but it did not have much information about what happened or her experience level or anything like that. I did find out that she was NOT on the Nautilus Explorer. It is certainly tragic but I don't think this reflects poorly on Roca Partida. In reality, there can be strange currents at many other sites, including Cozumel which I consider some of the easiest diving. We probably just have not been warned about them in some areas. Many divemasters worry about scaring people away and loss of tourist dollars. I heard about a member of the crew of a liveaboard that got into a down current in the Bahamas and died. No one thinks of the Bahamas as dodgy. I think diving is like driving. There is always going to be some amount of risk. We don't stop driving. When you first learned to drive, you probably didn't start out on the freeway. Now that you are an experienced driver, the freeway is no big deal. Most of the sites on this trip would have been fine for all levels of divers. Roca Partida is probably better for experienced divers. I don't mean that you need to be super experienced, but just comfortable with some current and good buoyancy skills. You have to pay attention to your depth just like you would on any wall dive. If you are a beginner and want to dive Roca Partida, just stick with the divemasters and they will look out for you. You should always dive within your limitations. You can go as shallow or as deep as you want to because of the way the rock slopes into the water. We are definitely planning to go back and will probably put together a group trip soon. Maybe next year. Anyone who is interested in going with a group, keep in touch. Again, I had no intention of making the site or the divemasters sound "dodgy". I was just trying to convey how exciting and thrilling the experience was, while still being safe.
     
  7. lfelix

    lfelix Garibaldi

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Los Angeles, CA
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    Hi everyone,
    I found some more information on the woman who died at Roca Partida a few months ago (February 2009). There was a posting put up by a woman who claims to have been on the liveaboard (not the Nautilus), at the scene of the accident. There are some pretty strong allegations being made by her. I don't know how much of it is actually true, although ultimately someone did lose their life. My condolences go out to her loved ones.
    Here is the link if anyone is interested in reading it. If you read on further past the first page, she does respond to the flurry of postings and gives a more detailed account of the this tragedy.
    scubadiving.com/forum/tm.aspx?m=138871&mpage=1&key=??

    I've done numerous searches over the years to try to learn more about incidents/accidents that have occurred in the area and have never encountered any until now. I'm wondering if there truly haven't been any, or there have but just haven't been reported. Maybe I'm being overly paranoid, but I want to be aware if accidents are prevalent in the area. Although I would LOVE to dive there, I do want to make sure I am prepared and don't bite off more than I can chew.

    Diving the Revillagigedos is a great dream of mine. I have wanted to go there for a number of years now. However, I don't feel that I have the experience necessary to be able to do so. Everything I've ever heard about the diving there has been spectacular, but always balanced with a word of caution for the not-so-experienced or the "faint of heart". Hearing these stories makes me more doubtful about how prepared I am to dive the conditions there or to face the "Vortex of Death", if I am the unlucky one who encounters it. I would like to dive the Socorro islands in the next couple of years (before my husband and I start a family), but I doubt I can log 1000 dives in such a short period of time. How do I know when I am ready? To the people that have been diving the area, are there also divers who have approximately 100 dives under their "weight belt"? It always sounds like mainly instructors and dive masters do this trip. I just want to get an idea of who else is on the boat.
    -Eager to get on the freeway :)
     
  8. debbiediver

    debbiediver Guest

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Lakewood Colorado USA
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    Thanks for the info on the diving fatality. I wish we knew more. It seems that there is a lot of speculation. I wonder if we could get information from DAN? If she had nitrox without knowing it, that could certainly be the cause of the accident. Depending on the blend and her depth, she could have had oxygen toxicity and had convulsions and lost her reg and drown. The posting said she had an empty tank so there is also the possibility that she ran out of air and possibly her tank had not been refilled from the last dive. There should have been some small traces of air in her tank so it could be analyzed to see if it was nitrox. I don't know about the boat she was on because I have never been on it. I think they have a good reputation, as far as I know. I don't think either of those things would happen on the Nautilus Explorer. They have a system for refills. When you return from your dive, you put your gear in it's spot and unhook the reg from the tank. They have the tanks marked as to who is using nitrox and who is using air so they would not fill an air tank with nitrox. We had several divers on air and several divers on nitrox on our boat. A few times, divers forgot to unhook their reg but the staff is right there as people come up and if you forget to unhook, they do it for you and refill your tank. As long as you always unhook your reg after a dive, you never have to worry that your tank did not get refilled. After they refill, they put your reg back on your tank. If you get to your tank and your reg is on, you know it has been filled. A few times, people forgot to take their reg off and the crew checked and refilled their tank anyway. The crew is very attentive to the divers. When you get on the boat, there are people helping you off with your gear and then refilling your tank while they have others walking around with trays of snack, fruit, water and juice to welcome you back. If it's chilly they may have hot cocoa. I know that this is not related to diving but all the bread was homemade so you woke up each morning to the smell of fresh bread baking. They keep track of which tanks they fill so that no tanks get missed. We did not have any incidents where someone's tank did not get refilled. I do know that Sten warned us that Roca Partida is so far out that if someone is missing, the Nautilus must search alone because unless there happens to be a boat nearby, which there usually isn't, it takes about 20 hours to get a boat there. I believe it is too far out for helicopters. I think it is good that they warned us about this ahead of time, instead of finding out after someone is missing that help isn't coming. That is the reason that Sten warned us to always keep the rock in sight. If you lose sight of it, you don't have a visual reference and it is easy to get lost. We did have an Italian that was lost for a short period but that was his own fault. Most of the time he went out on his own and did not stay with a buddy or with the group and he did not stay close to the rock. We would always see him way out in the blue. When the divers got back, the crew knew right away that he was missing and found him quickly (on the surface). That is the reason everyone dives with signal tubes and dive alert horns. There is really no reason to not stay close to the rock because that is where all the cool stuff is so I don't know why he hung out so far away from the rock. He spoke no English and the Italian I know is pasta-related words. I know that on Galapagos, we had the same issue at Wolf and Darwin. They are so remote that they can't get a helicopter there and it is an extremely long boat ride to get to help if you get bent. They warned us about this ahead of time and recommended we be especially conservative with dive times and always do safety stops. About your question about "getting on the freeway", I certainly don't think you need 1000 dives to dive Roca Partida. I only have about 500. Our boat was not full of instructors and divemasters, there was only us and one other instructor and no divemasters among the paying passengers. Most were experienced divers but I doubt that most had anywhere near 1000 dives. We can see if others agree with me but if you have 100 dives, I think you should be fine. I have only been once, so I cannot say that I know what the conditions will be like all the time but on our trip, it was not particularly difficult. There was that one dive with a slight downcurrent so that I did have to put some air in my BC to come up but everyone did fine on that dive. A couple of people went deeper than they should have but they admitted that was their fault. Only a few of the people said they noticed a downward current so it's not like it was strong. The people that went deeper than planned were so distracted by the huge school of hammerheads being cleaned that they just didn't pay attention. Obviously they had to know they were going deeper because they had to keep equalizing their ears. I think they did not particularly care. They had done deep dives before and they were on air, not nitrox, just so they could. It was a pretty awesome site. It is just like any wall dive, you have to pay attention to your depth. But like any wall dive, you can really choose how deep to go. Most of Roca Partida was just average dive conditions. It was only on each tips of the rock that there was some current. Most of the time we would just get around the corner and then the current would subside but one time, it felt stronger so I just turned back and stayed on the same side of the rock. There is plenty to see on both sides. We did the Galapagos last year also. I have a friend who has been diving since high school (about 30 years) but his wife is a novice. She had done her four certifcation dives and then took her advanced in a cold water quarry with very low vis. She got so shaken on the deep (and dark) dive that she had not been diving since. They wanted to go on the Galapagos trip but she didn't think she was experienced enough so she was just going to sit out the dives and do the land portions with us. The divemaster on that trip (the Aggressor) told her he would buddy with her and she did fine. She only sat out one dive on the whole trip. As long as you are competent enough to keep an eye on your depth and are comfortable in some amount of current, you should be fine. If you want to increase your dive skills and confidence, you could also take advanced or rescue if you don't already have that. If you want to get a few more dives in without having the expense of a dive trip, we are taking a group of divers to the Blue Hole in New Mexico on the weekend of May 16. We are doing open water certifications, advanced and several specialties such as night, deep, drysuit and possibly rescue. Let me know if you have an interest and I can give you the details.
     
  9. lfelix

    lfelix Garibaldi

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Los Angeles, CA
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    Hi Debbie,
    Thank you so much for your input. I found your advice very encouraging and am extremely excited that I may be able to dive Socorro in the near future. I get goosebumps thinking about seeing the Mantas! I'm also excited to hear that the Galapagos Islands are also diveable by people that aren't necessarily at the professional level of experience. I always thought the Galapagos were WAY out of my reach. I'm happy to hear that it's not as bad as I thought.

    It sounds like the Nautilus has some pretty good safety procedures in place (and some excellent divemasters as well). This definitely puts my mind at ease. I loved hearing about the fresh baked bread they make in the mornings. Sounds amazing!

    We are actually planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef/Coral Sea this August. This will be my husband's first time on a liveaboard (we'll see how he likes it). I think this will give us more opportunities to practice our dive skills and get more experience. Although I've been diving for ten years, I didn't really start diving frequently until my husband got certified four years ago. I did get my advanced certification shortly after getting my open water (although I don't feel that necessarily makes me an advanced diver). Since then we've had the opportunity to dive in different locations. Buoyancy is OK (done cavern/cenote and wreck dives), but I still need to work on my breathing (I'm a bit of an air hog). We've had some experience diving in currents while diving La Paz, Mexico (Sea of Cortez). Some of these dives had pretty strong currents and we had to use descent/ascent lines so as not to be swept away by the current (one poor diver was swept away a good half a mile before the boat found her). In any case, it was challenging, but the rewards were well worth it (Hammerheads). We're debating whether or not to get Nitrox certification. I hear it is safer than diving air. I also think doing the rescue diver course would be a good idea.

    Thanks a bunch, Debbie. I do appreciate your advice. :)
     
  10. JackConnick

    JackConnick Optical Ocean Sales ScubaBoard Business Sponsor ScubaBoard Supporter

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    I can attest to the surge. It was fairly calm and I was getting thrust towards and then up and down almost 40' at times. Had to swim very strongly away and fairly deep from the rock to get out of it. Not fun. Other than that I don't remember much in the way of currents.

    Thanks for the post. I was on the Solmar V before and am considering a trip early next spring on the Nautilus.

    (Debbie, just a note that it would really help if you typed your posts with some paragraph returns, the one long sentence is very hard to read.)

    Jack
     

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