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Thread: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

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    Default Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    OK, it's about time for a thread about my 2018 summer trip to Georgian Bay. This is the same trip that was featured in the article "Fogbound: The Bustard Islands of Georgian Bay" in the September 2018 issue of Small Boats Monthly, and with their kind permission I'll post about it here again now, mostly for my own amusement. If you're interested in a more text-heavy version, check out the article.

    But if you're still reading this, be warned: this was a two-week trip, and I'm only posting about the first half of the trip for now, which was covered in the Small Boats article. That's because I am working on a different magazine article about the second half of my trip, and if someone publishes it, they'll most likely want first rights to text and photos. So, you may have to wait 12-18 months before I actually post about the finish of the trip here. If that bothers you, don't complain to me--you've been warned!

    If you've read about my other trips, you know the boat is an 18' strip-planked beach cruiser designed by Don Kurylko especially for long-distance sail-and-oar voyaging, in particular the Inside Passage:

    Sailplan.jpg

    Alaska is a beautiful design, with the classy lines and graceful load-carrying capacity of a traditional whitehall. (To show you what I mean about load-carrying capacity: at 425 lbs displacement, the draft is 6"--and at full load, a whopping 1,100 lbs displacement, draft is only 8"). I've done enough capsize testing to know that if the worst happens, I can probably recover single-handed without too much fuss. (I also built in additional buoyancy in the bow, where the plans call for a grate-covered anchor well with space for 400' of rode, something I don't find too necessary in the tide-free Great Lakes).

    Though designed as a two-masted lugger with 134 sq ft of sail (the Inside Passage has light winds), I decided early on that I'd be using it with just the mainsail (85 sq ft) stepped in the center mast step instead, like so:

    DSCN3211.jpg

    I've been quite happy with that decision in the first couple of years of sailing. With minimal wetted surface, it doesn't take much wind to move the boat even with the reduced sail. If the winds get too light, I'm usually happier rowing anyway--and that same minimal wetted surface means I can row easily at 3 knots pretty much all day in flat water. So I may be a rarity among sail-and-oar cruisers in that I'm perfectly happy without a mizzen.

    But, on with the trip:

    As usual, I wanted to start my trip in Spanish, Ontario, where I knew there's a nice marina where nobody seems to care if you sleep in your car and park a trailer there for weeks at a time:



    There's also plenty of good anchorages and shore camping possibilities within a few miles of the marina, so you can always get somewhere.

    But in my first Georgian Bay trip with my new boat in 2017, I'd been a little disappointed that I wasn't able to explore as far into the bay as I wanted. So my plan this time was to minimize distractions and sail as quickly as I could until I got to Georgian Bay, skipping all the wonderful nearby camping spots in the Benjamin Islands, just 10 miles out of Spanish:

    DSCN2834 (2).jpg

    Including some nice sandy beaches hidden behind the rocky outcrops of the Sow and Pigs just offshore:

    DSCN3487 (2).jpg
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-07-2019 at 01:16 AM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    So on Day 1, I took as direct a line as I could manage, heading south and east toward Georgian Bay. I didn't set out too early, but was lucky enough to have favorable winds all day, which kept me moving nicely until well after sunset:



    But the winds finally died as it got dark--must have been close to 10 p.m. but I didn't have a watch to be sure, and didn't really care. I finished the day by rowing along the southern shores of Bedford Island and finally anchored off East Rous Island, just outside the main big-boat anchorage there. Slept aboard without even bothering to put up the boat tent--beautiful night.

    Here's the route from Day 1, about 25 miles of sailing, mostly on a broad reach:

    day 1.jpg
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Sleeping aboard, for me (especially without a tent), always leads to an early start. Morning calms are common in the North Channel during the summer months:



    So I set out under oars. On previous trips I had always avoided the direct route through the town of Little Current (where wind-driven currents can reach 5-6 knots, and there's a swing bridge to get under that's too short even for a sail-and-oar boat with the sail hoisted). But it was the straight fast line to Georgian Bay, so that's where I headed.

    After a quick stop in town (I realized I had forgotten to bring a towel, and paid an outrageous tourist price for a cheap synthetic fabric "Ontario: Life is Better on the Boat" beach towel that steadfastly refused to soak up any water for the entire trip, despite my best efforts--all I managed was to kind of push the water around on my skin, and squeegee a bit off after swimming) before getting underway again, still rowing:

    DSCN4878.jpg


    And after rowing under the bridge (about 6 miles rowing in all), the wind finally picked up enough to hoist the sail, hand over the steering duties to the $.59 autopilot, and get to the important part of the day: breakfast!

    DSCN4883.jpg

    Upscale fancy food like this makes its way aboard courtesy of my wife. I would never bother. That said, it was awfully tasty--some kind of hazelnut & ghee spread (edit to say: nope--it was chocolate-date-ghee). It was enough to keep me moving into the far eastern reaches of the North Channel, past Strawberry Island light and well on my way to Georgian Bay:

    DSCN4886.jpg

    I've normally sailed the Lansdowne Channel into Killarney, but this time I slipped around to the south on the outside route, which was guarded jealously by the locals, who muttered and grumbled as I sailed past:

    DSCN4892.jpg

    Stopped briefly in Killarney to call home (ok, AND to eat a fish dinner at the Herbert Fishery waterside restaurant), then pulled into Thebo Cove at the end of the Killarney Channel, right at the edge of Georgian Bay proper. A quiet little bay just a mile outside of town, but I've never been bothered by anyone when I've camped there:

    DSCN4899.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-07-2019 at 02:57 AM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    The tent was my splurge purchase for this trip, a freestanding design that makes camping on the granite slabs of Georgian Bay (which is 90% of the onshore camping) much nicer. The old tent necessitated a tedious search for anchor rocks to tie off the corners--luxury! Luxury!

    So, two days and I had already reached Georgian Bay proper. I had cut my normal time in half by ignoring distractions and sailing the direct route to get here. The route from Day 2, about 28 miles:

    day 2.jpg

    On Day 3, I set out east from Thebo Cove. Light winds, but at least I wasn't rowing. (Why is it that, even though I love rowing, I love not rowing at least as much?) I steered for West Fox Island, where I knew there was a rocky beach that would make it easy to get ashore for a little exploring. Seven miles later, I was almost there:



    This is one of my favorite islands (in one of my favorite island groups) in the entire Thirty Thousand Islands region of Georgian Bay:

    DSCN4918.jpg

    Exposed to the prevailing winds, it's not the best place to leave a boat overnight.

    DSCN4928.jpg

    And with the already light winds dying away, I knew I wouldn't be sailing 25 miles today. I'd have to find somewhere close by to camp or anchor. Which shouldn't be a problem, with thousands of uninhabited, undeveloped islands scattered along the eastern shores of Georgian Bay. But which island?
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-06-2019 at 04:37 AM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    I see the Forum is up to its usual tricks, turning my photos in attachment links after I post them, even though they were photos at first. I'll try fixing that tomorrow--got to go do something useful now instead. Cheers,

    Tom
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Thanks. Grand.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Looking forward to more. I did a 5 day trip in August in McGregor Bay.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Thanks Tom, I'll be happily keeping eye on this!

    Bruce

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    I’m tuned in.
    Looking forward to more.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    More!

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    This is great. Carry on, please!
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    All right, so on with Day 3. I left West Fox Island by late morning, after visiting a little while with a new friend:

    DSCN4940.jpg

    and ghosted along nrthward in light airs where the extra 49 sq ft mizzen would have been handy. It looked like there'd be some nifty sheltered places around the Anchor Island group about a mile north, so that's where I headed. I'm glad I did--well worth a visit:



    Pretty nifty sailing, slow enough not to be too worried about hitting rocks. Which, luckily, I didn't... yet.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    You can see why I didn't feel a pressing need for an anchor well with storage for 400' of rode:



    And why my new freestanding tent was making life so much better here in the Thirty Thousand Islands:

    DSCN4974.jpg

    I'd come all of eight miles, but with hardly any wind and a crew too lazy to row, this campsite would have to do. Here's the route from Day 3:

    Day 3.jpg

    Spent the afternoon and evening wandering around my island, climbing to the summit (like many Georgian Bay islands, a rocky dome rising to a good height above the water), and generally feeling lucky to be there.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Thanks....I love seeing places I may never visit.
    I once thought I was wrong, but I was wrong, I wasn't wrong.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Well, I just managed my first visit to New Zealand over Christmas, so you never know... I'd love to do some (more) sailing in New Zealand--only got out a little on my visit.

    Day 4 started out overcast and rainy, but I wasn't going to stay any drier ashore than I would in the boat unless I stayed in the tent all day. No thanks. So, I kept on eastward, sailing farther into Georgian Bay. The shores are typically guarded by shoals and granite reefs for a half mile or more (or a kilometer, I suppose, this being Canada), so I had to beat offshore (southerly) a ways until I had clear water to make the turn east toward the Bustard Islands:



    The extra length (18' compared to 15' for the Ross Lillistone-designed Phoenix III I've cruised in a lot) seems to make this a fairly dry ride for the helmsman. Spray does come aboard, but far enough forward that you don't get soaked at the tiller.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Palmer View Post
    Looking forward to more. I did a 5 day trip in August in McGregor Bay.
    I haven't gone into McGregor Bay much--yet... I do tend to prefer Georgian Bay because it seems a bit wilder, with fewer cottages and almost no other traffic where I tend to sail. But you can't really go wrong anywhere around the North Channel either.

    Tom
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Once clear of the band of shoals along the Georgian Bay shore, I was able to turn off the wind and head straight east for the Bustard Islands--one of my favorite places in Georgian Bay--you can just make out the Bustards off the starboard bow in the video below, maybe 6-7 miles away:



    We covered about 27 miles or so in all on Day 4, with the final stages of the journey taking us right through the main Bustard Island group through a narrow passage known as the Gun Barrel (barely wide enough for my oars to fit as I rowed through the last windless 10 meters) and out through a popular (i.e. crowded) big boat anchorage. I had a brief visit with a cruising couple rowing their dog ashore in a nicely built Bolger Defender (I think) dinghy, then out to the east side of the Bustards where no one but canoes, kayaks, or sail-and-oar centerboarders can approach too closely:

    Day 4.jpg

    A tangled maze of islands and rocks and narrow winding channels surrounds the eastern side of Tanvat Island (the biggest island of the Bustards), but by paying close attention, I was able to keep track of where we were. Found a nice campsite and settled in for the evening--quite a change from the big open waters of Georgian Bay, being tucked back in among the islands, more than half a mile from the bay:

    DSCN5064.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-07-2019 at 04:35 AM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    We've always stopped at The Bustards. Lovely rocks. Our albums have lots of pictures of kids jumping off.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Thanks for sharing your adventures, I always love seeing your pictures and reading the descriptions of your trips.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hadfield View Post
    We've always stopped at The Bustards. Lovely rocks. Our albums have lots of pictures of kids jumping off.
    What, and none of yourselves jumping off? (Best jumping rock I've found is the east end of the Whalesback rock, in the Whalesback Channel (at the western end of the Whalesback Channel, about 10 miles west of Spanish, and maybe 12 miles east of Blind River). About 20' high, deep water below. Excellent blueberry patches, too!

    Tom
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Day 5 started out a little bit foggy:

    DSCN5107.jpg

    That didn't bother me too much, since I wanted to spend a little more time in the Bustards on this trip. And visibility wasn't so bad that I couldn't do a little exploring in the channels and backwaters on the east side of Tanvat Island. Here's the view from camp as the day began:

    DSCN5090.jpg

    Started heading west from camp (to the right in the photo above) to see what I could see. Didn't even bother with breakfast, just hopped in the boat and set out. Stopped ashore in a little dead-end bay:

    DSCN5093 (2).jpg

    And then, wondering if the dead end bay were really a dead end (water levels seemed to be significantly higher than they had been 4 years ago on my last trip to the Bustards), I rowed across the bay to make sure--a beautiful dead-calm morning:

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Turns out I was able (just barely, and not without scraping a bit of paint off the keel) to row straight through and into the channels on the other side of the peninsula. Just can't get enough of flatwater rowing with this boat, such a beautiful morning.

    DSCN5104.jpg

    By this time I was really happy that I was fogged in at the Bustards.

    DSCN5103 (2).jpg

    One of my favorite mornings.

    DSCN5105.jpg

    Just perfect.
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-09-2019 at 06:09 PM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    I did manage to confirm that I knew where I was when I passed the back side of a familiar-looking tent:

    DSCN5106 (2).jpg

    The pond behind my campsite was just a bit too shallow even for the Alaska's 7" draft, so I kept going around the peninsula to circle back around from the front.

    Day 5.1.jpg

    Back at camp, and still early morning. Not much of a sunrise to judge time of day, but who cares? I didn't see any reason not to keep exploring. So I did, making another loop around the backwaters on Tanvat Island's east side:

    Day 5.2.jpg

    Before arriving back at camp again. Probably about two miles of rowing so far, nice and easy with nowhere particular to go, and in no hurry to get there. Snuck through a few narrow places (showing as dry land on the chart) along the way:
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-17-2019 at 07:11 PM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Exploring, the best of all, and nice that it's so often so calm. What sort of wildlife did you see? Any fishing? I think I asked you those questions before.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    And did you have that entire island group to yourself?
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Quote Originally Posted by Gib Etheridge View Post
    Exploring, the best of all, and nice that it's so often so calm. What sort of wildlife did you see? Any fishing? I think I asked you those questions before.
    Ah, wildlife! Lots of minks, they seem to be everywhere. Beavers. Herons. Cranes (I did not expect sandhill cranes in the Bustards, but they were there). And--these guys:

    DSCN5152.jpg

    That's a Northern Watersnake that invited itself into my camp two or three times. And this:

    DSCN5339.jpg

    is an Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake, which I was excited to see as they are fairly rare. But that's getting ahead of the story.

    As for fishing, that's one vice I've never yet managed to acquire. I suppose I should. But I doubt I will. I have been catching some onos (wahoos) out here in the Marshall Islands from time to time, but only when I have to.

    Tom
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Quote Originally Posted by Woxbox View Post
    And did you have that entire island group to yourself?
    It sure feels like it when you're out there. But really, the bigger boats all hang out on the northern and western sides where there is deep water. On the east side where I was, there is a belt of shoals and reefs at least a half mile wide offshore, so only small boats and kayaks would be able to get anywhere close. I stayed on the east side for three nights and four days, and never saw another boat. But to get there, I had to sail through an anchorage on the north side that was crammed with about 30 big boats, both sail and power.

    Once you're on the east side, you're pretty much on your own. Lovely.

    Tom
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Nice thread, Tom. Thanks!

    Kevin
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    "(Why is it that, even though I love rowing, I love not rowing at least as much?)"

    Well said.

    What a great trip with some serious sailing. That beat to the Bustards must have been glorious - a steady wind all the way.

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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Quote Originally Posted by darroch View Post
    What a great trip with some serious sailing. That beat to the Bustards must have been glorious - a steady wind all the way.
    There were lots of great passages, but getting to the Bustards was only about 4 miles beating, then a broad reach--even better! On this trip I think I spent more time sailing reefed than I did sailing unreefed, and had one lovely afternoon where I covered 10 miles in 80 minutes (which included getting the boat off a beach, rowing offshore, and hoisting the rig).

    What have you been up to with your Alaska, Rod? I haven't seen you posting any new videos or photos for a while.

    Tom
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    So, on with the trip. I had gotten back to camp well before lunch, having explored the northern side of my peninsula pretty thoroughly. That's when I met the Northern Watersnake for the first time. What to do next?

    Head south, of course. Still foggy, still windless.

    Day 5.3.jpg

    Just a perfect place to explore. Dinghy cruising seems to be rarely practiced in the Great Lakes, which might help explain why I've always felt like I'm all on my own out there. I've seen kayakers occasionally, but never a small sailboat. If sailing is a niche sport, than sail-and-oar cruising is a tiny niche within the niche.

    This morning was so foggy that even the gulls weren't flying.

    DSCN5113.jpg

    Found a lovely little lilypad bay tucked way back in:

    DSCN5134.jpg

    Then headed back to camp for lunch. I think I ate something--can't really recall what. Met the Watersnake again.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-09-2019 at 03:02 PM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    The day was clearing, but I had no plans to leave yet. Would have been a late start to the day anyway. Instead I set out under oars again, heading farther south. Got about a mile and a half, where I tried to find a way back through the outer shoals--without much success.

    Day 5.4.jpg

    I was also trying to find the campsite I had used on my last trip to the Bustards aboard my brother's Phoenix III. On that trip I stayed only one night, barely scratching the surface of what the Bustards had to offer. But even though I figured I must have been within a quarter mile (er, sorry, this is Canada--within a half kilometer) of that campsite, I never managed to find it:

    DSCF8166.jpg

    DSCF8151.jpg

    Instead, I turned around and found another way back to camp, and STILL didn't find my old campsite.

    Day 5.5.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-09-2019 at 03:05 PM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Well, Day 6 was still foggy, but I decided to pack up camp and row out to the edge of the islands and see if moving on was possible. Possible--yes. Advisable--no:

    Attachment 32748
    DSCN5282.jpg

    But with all my gear packed aboard, I was free to roam wherever I wanted. Seemed like maybe a circumnavigation of the entire Tanvat Island might be possible. I wasn't sure, as the chart showed a narrow bit at the northern end where Tanvat touched the next island, and plenty of shoals and long stretches of shallow water with no depths recorded. Yesterday had proven that even with a 7" draft, there are places where I'd be unable to sneak through.

    But, might as well try. I rowed around the north end of Tanvat island, close to the big boat anchorage (but with an island between), and found an empty cottage:

    Attachment 32749
    DSCN5284.jpg

    Which was about the closest I came to seeing anyone else during my time in the Bustards. Kept going through the narrow bit at the northern end:

    DSCN5298.jpgAttachment 32750

    From here, things opened up a bit as I started to turn south down Tanvat Island's western side:

    Attachment 32751
    Day 6.1.jpg

    I could maybe even have done some sailing, but (of course) it would have been dead to windward, and the channel wasn't that wide. Far faster, and less frustrating, to keep rowing instead:

    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-09-2019 at 03:20 PM.
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    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    Got about this far:

    Day 6.2.jpg

    until my next choice: keep going down the main channel, or try to sneak through some twisty backwaters on the inside. Of course I opted for the inside route, not really sure if it was possible or not. You can hear the rattle of some sandhill cranes a few seconds into this video:



    You can also see that it's quite convenient to move to the aft thwart and row facing forward--the spacing of the oarlocks worked out perfectly for that. Which is nice for managing tight twisty passages under oars. I did make it through to the next stretch of open water:

    Day 6.3.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-09-2019 at 03:18 PM.
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  35. #35
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    northwestern Wisconsin
    Posts
    4,344

    Default Re: Return to Georgian Bay, Part I

    And explored all the way up into the dead ends, where I stopped and ate lunch. Had some visitors aboard:

    DSCN5301.jpg

    Which made for a nice change.

    DSCN5314.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-09-2019 at 04:28 AM.
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

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