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The Salem Ferry Catamaran approaching its dock off Blaney Street in Salem, Massachusetts, United States
Two catamaran sailboats, leaving Saint-Vaast Harbour

A catamaran ("cat" for short) is a multihulled watercraft consisting of two parallel hulls of equal size.

A catamaran is geometry-stabilized, that is, it derives its stability from its wide beam, rather than having a ballasted keel like a monohull. Being ballast-free and lighter than a monohull, a catamaran can have a very shallow draught. The two hulls will be much finer than a monohull's, the reduced drag allowing faster speeds in some conditions, although the high wetted surface area is detrimental in lower wind speeds. A sailing multihull will heel much less than a sailing monohull of the same length, so on a windward course its sails spill less wind and are more efficient. The limited heeling means the ride may be more comfortable for passengers and crew, although catamarans can exhibit an unsettling "hobby-horse" motion and have a violent unsettling diagonal pitching motion that is unpredictable and makes moving around hard in rougher conditions; the noise is also much more than a monohull experiences.

A catamaran's two hulls are joined by some structure, the most basic being a frame, formed of akas. More sophisticated catamarans combine accommodation into the bridging superstructure. Catamarans may be driven by sail and/or engine. Originally catamarans were small yachts, but now some ships and ferries have adopted this hull layout because it allows increased speed, stability and comfort.

The catamaran concept is a relative newcomer for Western boat designers, although they have been used since time immemorial among the Dravidian people, in South India. Catamarans were developed independently in Oceania, where Polynesian catamarans and outrigger canoes allowed seafaring Polynesians to voyage to the remotest Pacific islands.

In recreational sailing, catamarans and trimarans initially met some skepticism from Western sailors versed in traditional ballasted monohull designs.[1]


  • Multihull component terms 1
  • History 2
    • Polynesian catamarans 2.1
    • Older European catamarans 2.2
    • Early modern catamarans 2.3
    • Sailing and transport 2.4
  • Usage and application 3
    • Faster boats 3.1
    • Catamarans' peculiarities 3.2
    • Catamaran sailing 3.3
    • Cruising sail catamarans 3.4
    • Mega-catamarans 3.5
  • Powered catamarans 4
    • Cruising powered catamarans 4.1
    • Passenger transport 4.2
    • Military catamarans 4.3
  • Variations 5
    • SWATH 5.1
    • Pontoon boat or hydroairy ship 5.2
    • Catamaran kits 5.3
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9

Multihull component terms

The word catamaran is derived from the Tamil word kaṭṭumaram (கட்டுமரம்), literally "tied wood" (from kaṭṭu "to tie" and maram "wood, tree").[2][3][4] A "kattumaram", a geometry-stabilized rowboat used by the Tamil people, shares component part-names with the proa, a multihull sailboat used by the Oceanic people. Although the original "kattumaram" included a monohull raft, the modern word catamaran exclusively means a twin-hulled vessel.

In the United States, there are three terms that describe the main components of catamarans and trimarans, namely: "vaka", "aka", and "ama",[5] terms derived from the Malay and Micronesian language group terms for parts of the outrigger canoe. These terms, which reflect only American usage, are unknown in the UK, where English words are used instead.

  • Vaka – the canoe or main hull[6]
  • Aka – the framework member that connects the vaka (hull) to the ama (outrigger, or “float”)[6]
  • Ama – the outrigger, connected to the vaka by an aka[6]

In Hawaiian, the main difference is the main hull or canoe is a wa'a pronounced like va ah. There is no plural in Hawaiian and so a double canoe, or two canoes joined together by aka is a wa'a wa'a. An area in lower Puna is called wa'a wa'a. A comprehensive list of Hawaiian words for a boat is published by the Polynesian Voyaging Society.[7]

For a craft with more than two hulls, "cata-" is replaced with the Greek numerical prefix for the number of hulls (e.g. trimaran, pentamaran).


Polynesian catamarans

A Polynesian catamaran

While 17th-century English adventurer and buccaneer William Dampier was traveling around the world in search of business opportunities, he found himself on the south-western coast of India. He was the first to write in English about a kind of vessel he observed there. It was little more than a raft made of logs.

On the coast of Malabar," he wrote in 1697,[8] "they call them Catamarans. These are but one Log, or two, sometimes of a sort of light Wood ... so small, that they carry but one Man, whose legs and breech are always in the Water.

The vessels described by Dampier are still in use today on the coasts of South India. "kattumaram" in Tamil literally means logs tied together. Today's kattumarams have about four logs tied together in a shallow arc to make a raft. The logs are usually from a local, fibrous palm tree. Typically the raft is untied and logs are scattered to dry out before reuse.

Although the name came from Tamil, the one-hull-ballasted sailboat variant is from South Pacific. English visitors applied the Tamil name catamaran to the swift, stable sail and paddle boats made out of two widely separated logs and used by Polynesian natives to get from one island to another.

Older European catamarans

The larger Hellenistic polyremes ("sixteens", "twenties", "thirties" and one "forty") were most likely double-hulled catamarans.[9] Catamarans were used by Greeks engineers under Ptolemy II (283–246 BC) as obelisk carriers:

Later, Ptolemy IV (221–204 BC) is said to have built two super-galleys, the Thalamegos and the Tessarakonteres:[10]

Early modern catamarans

A present sweep row training on catamaran

Early modern Europe's first documented catamaran was designed by the polymath and Royal Society member William Petty in 1662. It was designed to sail faster, in shallower waters, with less wind & crew than other vessels of the time, but the unusual design met with scepticism and was not a commercial success.[11][12] The design remained relatively unknown in the West for almost another 160 years, until the 1820s or 1830s, when Englishman May Flower Crisp built a two-hulled merchant ship called "Original" at Rangoon. Crisp described it as "a fast sailing fine sea boat; she traded during the monsoon between Rangoon and the Tenasserim Provinces for several years".[13]

Later, an American, Nathanael Herreshoff, began to build catamaran boats of his own design in 1877 (US Pat. No. 189,459), namely Amaryllis, which immediately showed her superior performance capabilities, at her maiden regatta (The Centennial Regatta held on June 22, 1876, off the New York Yacht Club's Staten Island station).[1] It was this same event, after being protested by the losers, where catamarans, as a design, were barred from all the regular classes[1] and they remained barred until the 1970s. This ban relegated the catamaran to being a mere novelty boat design for many years.

Polynesian Concepts yacht designed and built by Buddy Ebsen

In 1936 Eric de Bisschop built a Polynesian "double canoe" in Hawaii and sailed it home to a hero's welcome in France. In 1939, he published his book Kaimiloa, which was translated in English in 1940.

In 1947, surfing legend, Woodbridge "Woody" Brown and Alfred Kumalae designed and built the first modern ocean-going catamaran, Manu Kai, in Hawaii. Their young assistant was Rudy Choy, who later founded the design firm Choy/Seaman/Kumalae (C/S/K, 1957) and became a fountainhead for the catamaran movement. The Prout Brothers, Roland and Francis, experimented with catamarans in 1949 and converted their 1935 boat factory in Canvey Island, Essex (England), to catamaran production in 1954. Their Shearwater catamarans won races easily against the monohulls. Yellow Bird a 1953-built Shearwater, raced successfully by Francis Prout in the 1960s, is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. Inspired by de Bisshop's Kamiloa, in 1955 James Wharram built a utilitarian catamaran and sailed across the Atlantic with a crew of two German girls. In Trinidad he built another one and returned via the North Atlantic, west to east, pioneering catamaran cruising (maritime). James Wharram designs are a reference for simple, not too expensive self-built boats. Not needing a keel catamarans are more suitable for DIY construction.[14]

A Hobie catamaran sailboat

The speed and stability of these catamarans soon made them a popular pleasure craft, with their popularity really taking off in Europe, and was followed soon thereafter in America. Currently, most individually owned catamarans are built in France, South Africa, and Australia.

In 1970, Les Thompson began work in Inverloch, Australia, to single-handedly build the Llinase, a 70-tonne, 24-metre (79 ft) steel ketch motor-sailer which was subsequently launched in 1980. The vessel was able to "walk" up any suitable beach using a shunting system located under the wing and powered by hydraulic rams.

Sailing and transport

Maxi Catamaran Orange II

In the mid-twentieth century, the catamaran inspired an even more popular sailboat, the Beachcat. In California, a maker of surfboards, Hobie Alter produced the 250-pound (110 kg) Hobie 14 in 1967, and two years later the larger and even more successful Hobie 16. The Hobie 16 remains in production, with more than 100,000 made in the past three decades.[15]

For 30 years, the Tornado catamaran was an Olympic-class sailing catamaran, with a crew of two. Designed in 1967 by Rodney March of Brightlingsea, England, with help from Terry Pierce, and Reg White, it was built for the purpose of becoming the Olympic catamaran. At the IYRU Olympic Catamaran Trials, it easily defeated the other challengers. It was redesigned in 2000, and remains one of the fastest double handed catamarans.

Important builders of transport catamarans are Austal and Incat, both of Australia and best known for building large catamarans both as civilian ferries and as naval vessels.

Usage and application

Faster boats

Lightweight catamarans may have higher maximum speeds than monohull boats for some conditions. They can be slower in some conditions because of the added friction drag from the additional wetted surface area. In moderate winds and smooth seas they are usually faster, depending on the type of craft and its operating parameters, such as sail area and weight of stores.

All non-planing displacement hulls have an exponential growth in resistance with speed. The only exception to this is if the boat is light enough and has enough lift from the hull to plane. A catamaran usually has slender hulls which are easier to push through the water at a given speed.

Sailing catamarans are typically lighter for performance-oriented goals. They don't rely on a low center of gravity as a monohull sailboat does, since righting moment is derived from the spacing between multiple hulls. Catamarans have a wider beam (the distance from one side of the boat to the other), which makes them more stable and therefore able to carry more sail area per unit of length than an equivalent monohull. However, in strong gusty conditions, a sailing catamaran should significantly reduce sail to prevent the risk of the boat being blown over. The greater initial stability means that the sail is more likely to stay upright in a gust without developing a heel, which warns the crew of the force of the wind.

A catamaran reaches its maximum speed in moderate wind and in sheltered conditions. Wave action can be very detrimental to catamaran speed. Pitching of light weight catamarans is significant sailing to weather. Catamarans are especially favourable in coastal waters, where the often-sheltered waters permit the boat to reach and maintain its maximum speed.

Catamarans' peculiarities

Although the principles of sailing are the same for both catamarans and monohulls, there are some "peculiarities" to sailing catamarans. For example:

  • Catamarans can be harder to tack if they don't have dagger boards or centre boards.[16] All sailboats must resist lateral movement in order to sail in directions other than downwind and they do this by either the hull itself or else leeboards (including Bruce foils), dagger boards, centre boards, or other systems like hydrofoils. Also, because catamarans are lighter in proportion to their sail size, they have less momentum to carry them through the turn when they are head to wind. Correct use of the jib sail (back-filling the jib to pull the bow around) is often essential in successfully completing a tack without ending up stuck in irons (pointing dead into the wind and sailing backwards, see: No-Go Zone).
  • Catamarans are slower turning than monohulls as hull spacing is increased and hulls are narrowed to a more needle like shape.
  • Catamarans are less likely to capsize in the classic "beam-wise" manner but often have a tendency to pitchpole instead—where the leeward (downwind) bow sinks into the water and the boat 'trips' over forward, leading to a capsize. Other sources state that trimarans are more prone to "pitchpole", while catamarans can flip sideways. Either way, it is caused by sail overpowering (and not moving weight aft fast enough for smaller vessels). "Trim a monohull for the lull, ride the puff; trim a multihull for the puff, wait the lull".

Catamaran sailing

A Formula 16 sailing catamaran

Small recreational catamarans are typically designed to be launched and landed from a beach. They will come to rest on their keels without heeling over like a monohull. Additionally, their rudders can be retracted to the depth of their keels, which protects the fragile rudders from damage when the vessel is run aground.

Lagoon 380 showing her keels

Larger catamarans make good cruising and long distance boats: The Race (around the world, in 2001) was won by the giant catamaran Club Med skippered by Grant Dalton. It went round the earth in 62 days at an average speed of 18 knots (21 mph; 33 km/h).

For the 33rd America's Cup, both the defender and the challenger built 90-foot (27 m) long multihulls.[17] Société Nautique de Genève defending with team Alinghi Challenger sailed a catamaran. BMW ORACLE Racing, with a trimaran, replaced its soft sail rig with a towering wing sail – the largest sailing wing ever built. In the waters off of Valencia, Spain in February 2010, the BMW ORACLE Racing trimaran with its powerful wing sail proved to be superior. This represented a break from the traditional monohulls that had always been sailed in previous America's Cup series.

On San Francisco Bay, the 2013 America's Cup was sailed in 72-foot (22 m) long AC72 catamarans (craft set by the rules for the 2013 America's Cup). Each yacht had hydroplaning hulls and a wing sail. The regatta was won 9-8 by Oracle Team USA upon completion of the 19th race in the series against the challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand. Oracle Team USA had started the regatta with a 2-point penalty.[18]

Cruising sail catamarans

Below a minimum size, about 8 metres (26 ft), the catamaran's hulls do not have enough volume to allow them to be used as living space. At the same time, the bridgedeck area isn't sufficiently sized to make effective live-aboard space either.

There are a lot of folks doing long-distance offshore cruising in monohull yachts of 9m (30 ft) and less. No responsible designer or multihull sailor would recommend this for a multihull. 12m (40 ft) is the minimum recommended LOA and 15m (50 ft) is preferred. This size allows adequate storage for necessary cruising equipment and still give you a good turn of speed in comfort and safety. ... If 15m (50 ft) sounds enormous, remember that the weight of a multihull, of this length, is probably not much more than half the weight of a monohull of the same length and it can be sailed with less crew effort.[19]

While more popular in Europe and Australia, they are gaining popularity in the US as well. These boats can maintain a comfortable 300 nautical miles (350 mi; 560 km) per day passage, with the racing versions recording well over 400 nautical miles (460 mi; 740 km) per day. In addition, they don't heel more than 10-12 degrees, even at full speed on a reach.


One of the biggest developments in the yachting arena has been the rise of the super catamaran: a multihull over 100 feet (30 m) in length. Various international manufacturers are leading the way in this area including Incat, Blubay, Yapluka, Blue Coast Yachts, Sunreef Yachts, Lagoon and Privilege.

The emergence of the super or mega catamaran is a relatively new event akin to the rise of the mega or super yacht, used to describe the huge growth in luxurious, large motor yachts on the French Riviera and Florida Coast.

One of the reasons for increased mega catamaran construction was "The Race", a circumnavigation challenge which departed from Barcelona, Spain, on New Year's Eve, 2000. Because of the prize money and prestige associated with this event, four new catamarans (and two highly modified ones) over 100 feet (30 m) in length were built to compete. The largest, "PlayStation", owned by Steve Fossett, was 125 feet (38 m) long and had a mast which was 147 feet (45 m) above the water. Virtually all of the new mega cats were built of pre-preg carbon fiber for strength and the lowest possible weight. Top speeds of these boats can approach 50 knots (58 mph; 93 km/h).

Powered catamarans

Cruising powered catamarans

A recent development in catamaran design has been the introduction of the power catamaran. The 'power' version incorporates the best features of a motor yacht and combines it with the characteristics of a multihull.

Usually, the power catamaran is devoid of any sailing apparatus as demonstrated by one of the top-selling models in the United States, the Lagoon Power 43. This vessel has now been introduced to a number of charter fleets in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and is becoming an increasingly common sight.

Smaller powered catamarans are becoming quite common in the United States with several manufacturers producing quality boats. A small "cat" will almost certainly have 2 engines while a similar sized mono-hull would only have one engine. All mid-size and larger cats will have 2 engines.

The Swiss-registered catamaran, Tûranor PlanetSolar, which was launched in March 2010, is the world's largest solar powered boat. It completed a circumnavigation of the globe in 2012.

Passenger transport

The Stena Voyager was the world's largest catamaran ferry[20] that provided a high-speed service across the Irish sea. She was scrapped in 2013.[21]

An increasing trend is the deployment of a catamaran as a high-speed ferry. The use of catamaran for high-speed passenger transport was pioneered by Westermoen Hydrofoil in Mandal, Norway, who launched the Westamaran design in 1973. The Westamarans, and later designs, some of them consisting of a catamaran hull resting on an air cushion between the hulls, became dominant for all high-speed connections along the Norwegian coast. They could achieve speeds comparable to the hydrofoils that it replaced, and were much more tolerant of foul water and wave conditions.

Since the 1970s, the length of catamarans increased from 20 metres (66 ft) up to 115 metres (377 ft) long.[22] The high-speed Stena (HSS) is the world's largest fast ferry, traveling at a speed of 46 miles per hour (74 km/h), although it is capable of doing over 70 miles per hour (110 km/h).

There is a list of catamaran ferry routes documenting the growing number of routes.

Military catamarans

US Naval Ship Spearhead (JHSV-1) during sea trials in 2012.

Military Sealift Command currently operates several Expeditionary Fast Transport catamarans which are owned by the U.S. Navy.[23] These are used for the high speed transport of military cargo and are able to get into shallow ports due to a small draft.

The Makar-class is a class of two large catamaran-hull survey ships built for the Indian Navy. As of 2012, one vessel INS Makar (J31) was in service and the second was under construction.

INS Makar, a large survey catamaran of the Indian Navy.

The Indonesian Navy is the process of procuring 4 X3K trimaran missile boats from North Sea Boats. The first of these, the KRI Klewang was launched in August 2012. However, after three weeks of sea trials, the boat caught fire in port and the program was temporarily put on hold. An updated version of the class is now in development for the Indonesian Navy.

First launched in 2004 at Shanghai, the Houbei class missile boat of the PLAN utilizes a catamaran hull designed to accommodate the vessel's stealth features.


Basic Catamaran

Two main types of catamaran exist: the regular catamaran and the open catamaran, which features a trampoline between the hulls instead of plating. The normal catamaran multihull, powered or not, consists of two Amas separated by two Akas, which may suspend a platform or trampoline between them. They can be of various sizes and, recently, have become very large.


SWATH type

The Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) is a hull form used for vessels that require a ship of a certain size to handle in rough seas as well as a much larger vessel. An added benefit is a high proportion of deck area for their displacement—in other words, large without being heavy. The SWATH form was invented by Canadian Frederick G. Creed, who presented his idea in 1938 and was later awarded a British patent for it in 1946. It was first used in the 1960s and 1970s as an evolution of catamaran design for use as oceanographic research vessels or submarine rescue ships.

Catamarans provide large, broad decks. It also allows for a design that greatly reduce water resistance (the part that generates waves) by moving as much displacement volume as possible to the lower hull and narrowing the waterline cross-section sharply, creating the distinctive pair of bulbous hulls below the waterline and the narrow struts supporting the upper hull. This design means that the ship's flotation runs mostly under the waves, like a submarine (the smooth ride of a sub was the inspiration for the design). The result is that a fairly small ship can run very steadily in rough seas. A 50-metre (160 ft) ship can operate at near full power in nearly any direction in waves as high as 12 metres (39 ft).

The S.W.A.T.H. theory was further developed by Dr. Thomas G. Lang, inventor of improvements to the semi-submerged ship (S3) in about 1968. Basically, a SWATH vessel consists of two parallel torpedo like hulls attached to which are two or more streamlined struts which pierce the water surface and support an above water platform. The US Navy commissioned the construction of a SWATH ship called the Kaimalino to prove the theory as part of their ship research program. The Kaimalino has been operating successfully in the rough seas off the Hawaiian islands since 1975.

Pontoon Boat 
Hydroairy Ship 
SWATH pilot boat in Rotterdam 
Another Dutch SWATH Pilot boat 
Research ship Planet of the German Navy 

Pontoon boat or hydroairy ship

Hydroairy or Pontoon type

The hydroairy ship appears to be nothing more than an upgraded and enlarged pontoon boat with a formed and shaped underplatform. The general architecture is identical, consisting of two flotation chambers, for the Amas, joined by a load carrying platform, which carries the superstructure.

Invented in 1952 by a Minnesota farmer,[24] in the rural town of Richmond, MN. Ambrose Weeres had an idea that if you put a wooden deck on top of two columns of steel barrels welded together end to end, you would have a sturdy deck that would be more stable on a lake than a conventional boat. This was Ambrose Weeres, walking the same idea paths as the early Polynesians, while proving that the ideas behind the multihull are not all that counter-intuitive.

These sorts of boats are cheap and easy to make, require no ballast, and thus have good performance. Although this design is almost exclusively restricted to power boats, it is still essentially a catamaran. No displacement is lost towards ballast, therefore yielding huge operational efficiencies.

An unconventional design is the MAR Proteus.[25]

catamaran in Lake Constance 
HSC Tarifa Jet, Large, commercial high-speed catamaran ferry. 
The Victoria Clipper IV is a catamaran that provides ferry service between Victoria and Seattle 
TurboJET's Barca Foilcat 
The HSC Halunder Jet is a catamaran that provides ferry service between Hamburg, Wedel, Cuxhaven and Helgoland 

Catamaran kits

One factor following the rise of popularity in catamarans is the popularity of catamaran "kits". Most popular are materials such as woven fibreglass fabrics and foam, balsa or paper-honeycomb cores. These materials are pressed to create "panels" which are then often cut to specific shapes and parts for construction by amateurs or professionals.

See also


  1. ^ a b c L. Francis Herreshoff. "The Spirit of the Times, November 24, 1877 (reprint)". Marine Publishing Co., Camden, Maine. Archived from the original on 2008-01-24. 
  2. ^ "Catamaran". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  3. ^ Farlex. "Catamaran". The Free Dictionary by Farlex. Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  4. ^ Thompson, Della (1998). The Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 205.  
  5. ^ "The Tridarka Raider". Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  6. ^ a b c "A Primer on Proas". Archived from the original on 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  7. ^ "Polynesian Voyaging Society". 
  8. ^ Dampier, William (1697). A New Voyage Round the World.  
  9. ^ Lionel Casson (1969): "The Super-Galleys of the Hellenistic Age", Mariner's Mirror, Vol. 55, pp. 185-193
  10. ^ Colin Thubron. The Seafarers: The Ancient Mariners. Time-Life Books Inc. pp. Forenote. 
  11. ^ "Model of a twin-hulled ship - William Petty". Royal Society. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  12. ^ 22 September 2000 (2000-09-22). "Sailing with an Achilles' keel | General". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  13. ^ B R Pearn "A History of Rangoon", Corporation of Rangoon 1938 page 136; M F Crisp "A Treatise on Marine Architecture" Maulmein 1849 p94
  14. ^ Harvey, Derek, Multihulls for Cruising and Racing, Adlard Coles, London 1990 p. 16, ISBN 0-7136-6414-2
  15. ^ "Hobie 16 2012 Class Report 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2015. 
  16. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions on Multihulls". 
  17. ^ "11. MULTIHULL BATTLE - 35th America's Cup". Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  18. ^ "35th America's Cup". Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  19. ^ Jim Howard, Charles J. Doane. Handbook of offshore cruising: The Dream and Reality of Modern Ocean Cruising. Sheridan House, Inc. p. 280.  
  20. ^
  21. ^ Stena-katamaran till återvinning. Sjöfarts Tidningen, 29 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  22. ^ InCat, one of the largest wave-piercing catamaran builders
  23. ^ "Strategic Sealift (PM3)". Retrieved 2015-11-01. 
  24. ^ Weeres History - "An Idea that Started an Industry"
  25. ^ WAMV Proteurs images


  • C. A. Marchaj. Aero-Hydrodynamics of Sailing. Tiller Publishing.  
  • C. A. Marchaj. Sail Performance. McGraw Hill. p. 400.  
  • C. A. Marchaj. Seaworthiness:The Forgotten Factor. Tiller Publishing. p. 372.  

External links

  • Multiblog is the catamaran's blog !
  • Catamaran Sailing at Site devoted to all types of small catamarans known as beachcats.
  • Catamaran boat Builders
  • Multihulls World Catamarans aficionados magazine
  • Transporting A Catamaran Pictorial of transporting a 32-foot catamaran over land
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