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early medieval nef by PhilB - scale 1:50 (about)

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This is my first build log.


First, a little background. I play Pathfinder, a fantasy medieval roleplaying game, and use lots of figures, buildings, trees and other decor on the tabletop during our games. So a few months back, I started my RPG group on a new pirate-themed campaign, and decided I needed to build some ships for the visual appeal on the tabletop. I am not a real ship modeller. No elaborate oak or cherrywood planking here. I'll be working primarily with balsa and basswood, and winging it every step of the way. But I still thought it would be a good idea to share my progress and tribulations here, in hopes of getting some good advice from the real ship modellers here. I have to say I am impressed and more than a bit intimidated by all the fine work you folks have done, and have spent countless hours reading your build logs, especially those dealing with medieval ships, like viking longships, cogs, carracks and caravels. The models you build are simply awe-inspiring, and although my efforts will fall far, far below the standard in evidence here, I will dare to post nonetheless.


My basic concept involves building waterline models using a foam core - a basic hull shape carved from a sheet of insulation foam, and glueing a 1mm-thick balsa sheet to form the hull, pre-scribing planking to simulate individual planks. Perhaps in the future I will try using more noble materials, and acquairing the tools necessary to work with harder wood, but for now, I'm winging it with balsa that I can bend to form.


As a proof-of-concept project, I began with a small knarr - the same basic shape as a longship, but much smaller, for 6 to 8 28mm figures. You can read the full project tutorial here., and below is the result.


I'm going to post this bit, to see if the links work as expected, then serve up the cog project.




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Hmmm. Image links seem a bit wonky on this site, I'll have to go back and check about formatting.


So, the cog project. As before, I began with a sheet of insulation foam (the dense kind). Using a 2D top-down projection of a ship (probably a small caravel) I traced the outline onto a cardboard template (opting for a pointed stern rather than a flat stern) then cut out the foam, eyeballing the angle that would support the hull pieces in subsequent stages of the project. I wanted the hull to be more verticle than in my previous knarr project, but still to be slightly splayed, as many of the cogs I'd seen on a google search.


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On this 20mm-thick insulation foam, I planned to use 1mm-thick balsa that I (now) knew could be easily bent to this shape. I first prepared cardboard templates for the hull planking, temporarily  pinning them in place, and planning for the height of the fore and aft-castles. I should've made the aft-castle slightly higher, but that's the sort of thing you learn when scratchbuilding by the seat of your pants.hull-template2.jpg.b3ae640ab33b8a2565d559553f7e1ada.jpg

Once I'd decided on the profile, it was time to cut balsa, scribe it to represent the individual planking (anathema, I know, but hey) and get it ready to soak for 8 hours to become pliable.hull-template3.jpg.e74452020c761a1deebd35a448aa6804.jpg

Then I was ready to bend, pin and glue in place one side after the other. Since I'd taken them both out of the water bath, while the first side was being glued, I temporarily pinned the other side into the scrap foam, so as to espouse the approximate shape desired while the glue dried.



Yeah, that's a lotta pins, but I couldn't suss out any other method to hold the balsa in place while the glue dried. With the other side glued in place, I could start thinking about the fore and aft keel sections.


Then, it was time for the ship's ribs. From my google search, I'd seen that some ribs were far more massive than others. So I decided to alternate one thick rib with two thinner ribs, over the entire length of the ship. Even the parts under the fore and aft castles had to be done, because I wanted to make the fore and aft-castle decks removable, so as to be able to use those spaces during game play. I finally decided to do individual deck planks, with wide lateral strips to match the wide ribs, and thinner longitudinal strips between them. The idea was that those longitudinal planks would be removed to grant access to the hold when loading cargo - in theory, since the actual cargo hold wouldn't be accessible on this model, because of the foam core. So I started with a square bit to insert the mast later, and an intial row of planks in the middle of the ship.


Planking continued (shaving off individual planks to simulate use and wear) until done.


Doing individual planks made it a lot easier to work around the ship's ribs. Once that was finished, I decided to slap some paint on there. As with the previous small knarr project, I decided to paint the hull a dark brown, to be lightened later with grey drybrushing.



I've included a pirate figure for scale.


More soon... the project has progressed but my typing time has run out. I hope this project isn't too amateurish for these boards, and very soon I'm going to be asking you folks for advice on some trick points I'm agonising over.

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Thanks, Mark. I had a glance at your Licorne and it's simply amazing - maybe one day when I get all the right tools, I too might graduate from balsa to more noble woods.


Continuing from last night's post I arrive at my first conundrum: what form to give the forecastle. I can't help thinking that this problem would be easier to address if I'd just settled on a target picture, painting or model that I wanted to emulate, instead of carrying around this jumble of all the cogs in all the world to yearn after. So it goes like this. Some of the cogs have very small, very high forecastles, some none at all. Some have lower and larger forecastles, and that seemed better for me since I want enough space for a good number of figures to fight it out in colorful boarding actions.


Second consideration, with or without castle-like crenelations. I looked long and hard at the cogs that used crenelations, and decided they just looked too "medieval" for our pirate campaign. That's part of the anachronism inherent in fantasy-medieval RPGs. The tropes and the atmosphere don't always correspond to historical timelines.


And the fatal bad decision: many cogs seemed to have rectilinear forecastles, and at the stage I was at, that seemed like a good idea. But now it's built, it's the part of the hull that pleases me the least. So I'm strongly thinking about chucking that part of the model and doing something with nicer curves to it.


The fore and aft-castles are both removable, with most of the beams adhering to the upper decking, so as to give access to the space below during games. And to show off any detailing work that ends up getting done. So the planking on those castles is a single piece of balsa scribed to represent planks, rather than the individual plankwork on the main deck, because I needed the strength and rigidity on these pieces that will be removed fairly often. The downside is that it looks too "regular" and uniform to my eye. But after painting and weathering I suppose that will be less noticeable.


Now, if you look at the tail end of the forecastle above, you can see my second conundrum: how to blend the removeable forecastle into the rest of the ship? I was dreading doing the railing all along the gunwales, since it seems to curve in three directions at once. But in the end, all it took was a bit of time and patience and starting the piece over three times to get it (mostly) right.



And that's where I am this morning. Ready to install doorframes, doors, railings, anchor, capstain and so on. Oh, and I have to deal with the troublesome quandary of the rudder. And probably rip off the stern peice of keel and do it over.


Just to show why I'm doing this project in the first place, here is my first batch of pirate figures (from Wargames Foundry). You can also see my problem with the rudder. I should've kept the stern piece of keel a consistent narrow width over the height of the keel, and the rudder would have approximated the shape of the piece I've used. Now I fear I'll need to cut it off entirely and do that bit over. That's what happens when you jump in with both feet before thinking things through.



Edited by PhilB
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Hi Phil,

I don't know Pathfinder, but from what I've seen your ability to make structural parts for use in the game is very positive and aesthetically pleasing, I agree with Mark

7 hours ago, mtaylor said:

It seems you've climbed the learning curve

and I think it's very positive, probably like everyone, when we start new jobs the lack of experience can cause some mistakes, it's always like this at the beginning, but the determination and the passion will surely allow you to improve, avoiding small mistakes .. .

you can see if it is possible to recover, or in the worst condition to rebuild ... can't you open a small hole in the stern wheel prepare a rudder with the bar and stop it inside?

anyway go ahead, a good job will come, rest assured !!!


"hoping that the translator does a "good job"


good job

black Wolf




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Thanks, Luponero. I don't quite catch your meaning when you say, "can't you open a small hole in the stern wheel prepare a rudder with the bar and stop it inside?"


Here are my three options for the rudder, as I see them:


1) The original plan was to have the rudder top come up to the top deck, and have the tiller be exposed and visible there.

2) Ideally, the lower level of the main deck would be better for steerage, but since I decided to have a pointed stern instead of a flat, trucated stern, I don't think that would work out on this model.

3) Since this model is intended for gaming, I could just leave the stern bit of keel as it is with no attempt to simulate the waterline portion of the rudder at all. Just call it an abstraction and call it a day. But that just feels *wrong* somehow.


I think I have another reason for replacing the stern piece of keel: the contact with the hull planking is... definitely sub-optimal, especially on the right side which you haven't seen yet. Another advantage of redoing that piece would be to work at getting a better shape to more closely espouse the vagaries of the hull shape, which was far from perfect, especially at the stern.


In fact, I can't help thinking that my choice of a pointed stern would've been better suited to side rudders than a stern rudder. But it's too late for that on this model. The upside is that this project should be finished fairly quickly, and I can move on to improvements in design in the next one - which is the main reason I'm coming to talk about it here.

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Hi Phil,


You're doing a good job with your cog. You'll find all kinds of models on this forum, including even some 3D digital ones for gaming (plus an embroidered portrait of HMS Agamemnon in cross-stitch), so don't worry about your balsa wood one. It's all about the enjoyment of the build, not about impressing people - though some of the builds on this forum leave me slack-jawed with awe.


I love mediaeval and renaissance ships, and the cog is a particularly attractive one.


I think for the purpose you're building it for, your cog is totally ok, and your construction method is quite adequate for the job the ship is to do. A lot of ship models (including my own) fudge the bits that are below decks. "If you can't see it, it's not there".


You might like to get some more information on cogs (if you don't have it already) from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bremen_cog and https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/owKSqVwIBfJGJw . Though many cogs had rectangular forecastles, the Bremen cog doesn't seem to have had one (though it seems to have been under construction when it sank - maybe they hadn't got around to adding the forecastle yet?).


I think Luponero's idea (he's writing in Italian and Google is translating into English for him) is to cut a small hole in the stern, and add a rudder with a fake tiller that just goes through the hole and stops.


My own opinion is that you should add an aftercastle like on the Bremen cog. At this time the castles weren't integral with the hull- they were sort of just "plonked" onto ships as an afterthought.


If you compare your model with the pictures of the Bremen cog, and particularly the model on the second link above, you can see that the sternpost that supports the rudder goes up on an angle, following the angle of the hull, and the rudder is swung from that. I think you should trim the sternpost to be like that and then add a rudder (which is what I think you had in mind in your post #5 above) , and the rudder comes up through the aftercastle, the tiller can be above the deck of the aftercastle, which is what I believe you are after. I hope that makes sense.


Oh, by the way your Viking boat at the top would be better called a faering (four-oared boat). A knarr was a fairly large merchant/cargo ship.


Keep up the good work, and if by any chance you do go over to the Dark Side and get into serious modelling, you'll find this community very friendly and helpful.



Edited by Louie da fly
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hi Phil,

obviously you have to evaluate yourself if it is convenient to make the change,
Steven understood the change, I try to bring back photos
with changes in "red"






evaluates "if the game is not worth the candle" Italian proverb deriving from the French saying " “le saint (le jeu) ne vaut pas la chandelle”.


to the next
my friends, we are in about twenty days




alias luponero



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It would indeed be more logical for the tiller to come out on the level of the main deck. But if I do that, there can be no more stern post above that level. I will need to whack off the back point from the hull, leaving a small but significant blunt stern.


This is what I get for not working from a single model or source.


This sounds like a good plan, maybe the best option for finishing this model. I have a feeling it's going to end up looking more like a caravel than a cog.


Thanks for the detailed suggestions, Fabio.


And thanks to Steven. I had indeed seen those sites on cog research. I think you're suggesting to continue the stern post up to the second level on the model, the raised aft deck. That was my original idea, given that I'd built the stern post to rise the full height of the hull, but Fabio's suggestion is attractive too. One thing's for sure, once I whack a bit off the stern, there's no going back.

Fortunately my materials (foam and balsa, mostly) are very forgiving.

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And so that's what I did. Thanks for the advice, guys. That's why I came to post on these boards, to have the benefit of your sage advice.


This also resolved a niggling problem that wasn't visible in earlier photos: I slightly bungled the right rear section of the hull, leaving a gap with the original stern post.


Time for major surgery! I whacked off the stern post...


Then calculated where the tiller should go, and whacked off a bit more.


After cleaning up the hole a bit, I carved a new stern post, rudder and tiller out of balsa.


And then faced the conundrum of how to fix it in place. I couldn't resist the idea of having a working hinge, and since I don't have any brass, or tools to work it, I got my Macgyver hat on and scrounged up the inside tube of an old pen, a piece of wire (leftover from spearshafts) and some thin cardboard from a medicine box.


It all came out a bit large for scale, but now that it's done I think it'll have to stay.


Of course, it all needs paint, and the strips of cardboard will become iron. I still need to do a bit of filing and sanding and painting, and then do a serious grey wash to weather the whole thing, but progress has been made.


Next steps will be railing along the fore and aft castles (tricky since the aft castle deck is removable but the gunwales aren't) and some minimalist rigging.


Regarding the railing, I've got a question. I don't have a lathe, but if I manage to clamp a power drill in place, is it feasable to shape toothpicks (or barbecue skewers) for the posts, or will they just break every time I try to shape them?



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Definitely McGyver! A clever solution to the problem, and looks pretty good, too, though I think I'd make the hole in the hull smaller - it doesn't need to be that big for the rudder/tiller combination to work.


Yes, it's probably possible to turn tooth[picks in a clamped drill. There was a thread on this forum some time ago about someone making a poor man's lathe that way, and it seemed to work well. However, toothpicks are a bit rough and ready when you get them from the shop, so don't be suprised if you have a fair proportion of failures. Just keep at it - it should turn out ok with some practice and a bit of wastage.



Edited by Louie da fly
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Thanks, Steven.

My plan is to put in a sort of sill to bring the opening up to the level of the tiller, and to put some trim around the sides and top.

Now that the hinges are done, I'm disappointed at how bulky they are. I don't think I'll redo them, but the next ship will need a more elegant solution. Maybe I can source some really small brass tubing. There are no hobby shops round these parts, so whatever I can find in a big hardware store is the best I can do.


I'll give the toothpick idea a whirl. I expect I'll have to make a kind of jig to hold the drill properly. Using toothpicks as-is feels like it would be too bulky, and it'd be nice to have the railing look good. I see you have some experience with a "poor man's lathe" yourself, that dromon project is amazing. I can see I'll have to up my game.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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On 6/27/2020 at 9:31 AM, Louie da fly said:

Hey Phil! Any progress since your last post? I was enjoying following the build and I hope it produced a good result for you.

Hey back atcha, Louis. My shipbuilding antics took a back seat there for a while, but I still intend to do some rigging on this ship, and have two slightly smaller ones on the drafting board. I think my next step is to find several weights of thread/string and either buy or make a pile of those 3-hole blocks whose name I can't recall offhand.


I do have a better photo of that partially-finished ship, which I used on the cover of a self-published RPG adventure:



And if anyone is interested in non-ship scratchbuilding, I'm currently working on my 4th half-timbered house.

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Hi PhilB, nice to hear from you again.


Those 3-hole blocks are called deadeyes (they resemble a skull) in English, or caps de mouton in French. But there's very little evidence they'd been invented in the 14th century. I've chased up the pictorial record on the fixings of shrouds in the middle ages, and deadeyes just don't seem to be shown at this time - they don't seem to come into use until the 15th century.


On the other hand, this is for a RPG, so feel free to do whatever you want. 


By the way, I liked your half-timbered house. Have you seen Ekis's Mediaeval Fortified Village? 

On the same line, h

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All things considered, I would prefer to avoid too many anachronistic gaffes. So, would the shrouds (that's what the lines that run from the hull to the mast top are called, right?) just be cleated directly into the hull? Would they use one of those funny-looking X-shaped cleats? I figured I would need 4-5 shrouds on each side.


What I should really do is spend a few hours reading through the rigging subforum. I have a serious terminology deficit going here. <g>


Here is another photo showing most of the deck:


cog project 12.jpg

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Thanks for these suggestions!

I was thinking I'd need to do deadeyes, something like this:




But on closer inspection of the pic that Ekis posted, it looks like the shroud goes down around an open iron ring, through which a smaller line is wound perhaps 6 to 10 times. Much easier for me to deal with.




I found another pic, I think it's of the rigging of a knarr:




The 3 foremost shrouds seem to use a similar system, but the 4th (from right) appears to use some sort of toggles or cleats, also fairly easy for me to model. This project has sat on the back burner for nearly a year, but perhaps now I'll get motivated to add rigging and more details.



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With many mediaeval pictures of ships you're lucky to have the shrouds shown at all. And usually when they are, the artist doesn't bother to show how they're fixed to the hull. Here are two exceptions:


whale.jpg.7eb3177cae76bc6e260d6f2106eadd05.jpg  1401514184_BNFFrancais64f_271r.JPG.0eddc64b156f399eda409cd2bf670477.JPG


The first is probably early 14th century, the second is probably late 15th.


A couple of pictures of cogs show some indication of how the shrouds were attached. A bit minimal, though.


1715672574_elbingde.jpg.0be86c72e65da92306fc9cf5f8c6f5a2.jpg  145113676_LesCroniquesqueOROSIUSLesanciennesHistoiresdesRomains1401-1500Franais64Folio333r.JPG.7dd46c289c724497a00d16b3fcc8a5cd.JPG


Best I can do, I'm afraid. But it looks like they just weren't using deadeyes at the time.

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  • 1 month later...

The rigging on cog 1 is on standby, and I'm working on two additional very similar ships. I thought about starting a separate build log, but they should come together in a very similar fashion, so I decided to continue here. The main difference with cogs 2 and 3 are that I've changed materials. Rather than using balsa for the hull, I'm using a 1mm-thick veneer from a brie package (a French cheese).


Here you can see my raw materials: a sheet of dense insulation foam for the hull core, the cheese "box" in the background and a deck template that I sketched out freehand on some scrap carboard. I'm not using the top part of the package, since it has all that printing on it, but the bottom is thankfully featureless - perfect for my project.




I decided to make cog 2 with pointed hull and stern, and cog 3 with a flat stern, for a bit of variety. So after a few trials and errors, I created a single template for the flanks. It isn't flat, of course, because the curved waterline and the slight angle of the foam core leads to this odd shape. My project was long delayed, since I spent several months building several 28mm (about 1/50 scale) half-timbered houses for our much-delayed RPG sessions. If that interests you at all, I have a similar build log for the latest building here.




So this morning I got back to it, and cut these four pieces. I think it's probably basswood, as its still fairly soft, but much harder and more fobrous than balsa. After initial cutting and a little sanding to get both flanks of each ship to match up, I scribed lines in each flank (using my cardboard template as a guide) to represent the planking. I'm counting on the final paint job to give a slight impression of clinker construction. I also sanded a bevel into the bow and aft of each flank, so as to facilitate bringing them together around the foam hull core.




Of course, this wood isn't flexible at all along the grain. Quite rigid in fact. So all four pieces are currently soaking in an old fish-steaming pan, which conveniently has an inegrated inner shelf structure that works perfectly at holding the pieces under water. I figure by tomorrow morning they'll be flexible enough for me to clamp them around the top of the cheese box, so as to give them just a little bit of extra curve. Another day or two drying, and I should be able to proceed with the build. IF you look closely, you can just see the scribed planking peeking through the holes in the middle.




I like the idea of making these models from scrounged materials. I know that this project is far, far below the usual level of building y'all are used to on this forum, but it's fun and gives reasonable results for use on our gaming tabletop. For one or two hundred euros or so I could buy a resin model of a pirate ship ready for paint, but this is more satisfying. And it allows me to satisfy my desire to set my fantasy medieval world a bit further back on the timeline. Most pirate-themed RPG products on the market are more 17th-18th century, while I'm aiming for 14th-15th century.

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18 hours ago, PhilB said:

I'm using a 1mm-thick veneer from a brie package

Brilliant idea! I've seen those packages, but the idea the wood could be used for planking never occurred to me.


Nice work, and imaginative and creative as usual. But your skills and understanding have improved. I do believe you can no longer be called a newbie :dancetl6:

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Thanks, Louie.

As it turned out, the soaking was fine after 8 hours, so I clamped the pieces along the inner edge of the brie box lid, and this morning they had a perfectly serviceable curve to them. In fact, it's such a nice curve, and the template turned out to be so spot on, that I think I'm going to be able to build them without the foam core at all.


Since the idea is to make a waterline model for use on the gaming table, I think I can go straight to internal bracing. I'm taking great inspiration from the "Wütender Hund by ccoyle" even though my models will have a more pointy brow and stern, more reminiscent of a knarr, but this seems well within the range of ship shapes possible under the general label of a cog.


One question: should my main deck be flat over the length of the ship, or should it have a slight rise towards the bow and the stern? My original plan called for it to be flat, since I was using a foam core. But now that I'm thinking of dumping the foam core, I could quite easily have it rise. Ccoyle's kit appears to have a flat deck over the full length of the ship. Which will look better?




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Druxey, if this were a food & wine forum, I could wax lyrical on the "bon vivant" front. Let's just say that French food is one of the reasons I moved here some 35 years ago.


I guess I've answered my own question about the deck being level or not. After examining a ton of pics on google, and a fair number of cutaway  drawings of early sailing vessels (almost all of which are from centuries later, but still) it looks to me like I should do it this way:

- If I mentally divide the ship into thirds, the center third will have a flat deck.

- The forward third and the rearmost third will rise very slightly, so that they would be flat if the ship were pitched forward or backward, say.

- It appears that sometimes the foremost 5 or 10% of the deck surface rises at a steeper angle.


I'm just making this all up as I go along, based on a plethora of pics, in lieu of any proper plans or research materials.


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You're right. It's called the "sheer". From https://www.marineinsight.com/naval-architecture/hull-ship-understanding-design-characteristics/


"Sheer: The upward curve formed by the main deck with reference to the level of the deck at the midship, is called sheer. It is usually given to allow flow of green water from the forward and aft ends to the midship and allow drainage to the bilges. The forward sheer is usually more than the aft sheer to protect the forward anchoring machinery from the waves."

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Construction continues (pics soon), mostly on cog 2. I've put in a lower deck, at water level, and am currently adding the ribs along both sides. I was originally thinking of having a full-length upper deck, with just a hatch or two open to show a glimpse of the lower deck, but some models I've been looking at (like this brilliant model) have the lower deck exposed over most of the central length. I'm unsure which way to roll on this, but don't have to decide right away, since I'll be doing the lateral bracing in any event before deciding on how to do the upper deck.


One thing to put in the learning box is that I think I would've been better served by having the bow and stern be less pointy, and more buff and rounded. Period paintings could go either way, so I'm going to roll with the current disposition for both cogs 2 and 3, but subsequent models will need to adapt their shape to be more of a "round ship", I think.

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