Monday, July 26, 2010

We Found the Kon-Tiki Monument!

Current Location: Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°03.85'S 142°21.68'W

Anchored off the Kon-Tiki Monument, which is located at position: 16°03.873'S 142°21.548'W

Armed with a photo that our friend Jim resized and emailed us, from the article about the monument dedication, we finally located the monument. Of course, it is the only islet within a mile in either direction that we hadn't set foot on, it is the first one south of our first anchorage--which Dave had decided was too far north.

There is a nice plaque on the 'pile of rocks', and people have put shells and flowers on the 'altar'. It's very nice.

Even in the 3 years that have intervened since the photo was taken, the tree topography has changed--the most prominent palm tree in the picture--the tall one on the left--is no longer there. But with the amount of other non-palm vegetation in the picture, it was obvious that this had to be the island.

The waypoint that Jim found on the internet for Kon-Tiki is 16°04.649'S 142°21.980'W. The only thing that doesn't match up is that this waypoint is 8/10's of a mile from the island. The book says they camped on an island 600-700 yards north of the Kon-Tiki, which is more like a third of a mile. So we're not sure exactly which is right.
At 7/25/2010 9:19 PM (utc) our position was 16°03.85'S 142°21.68'W

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Still Searching for Kon-Tiki

Current Location: Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°08.35'S / 142°23.56'W

Thanks to our friends Jim Yates and Barbara Emmons, we have a GPS waypoint for the Kon-Tiki landing area, and a description of the 'monument' erected in 2007, with the help of Thor Heyerdahl's grandsons. The description is from this article:

However.. the location Jim gave us, plots out in the middle of the reef area, and was quite 'awash' yesterday afternoon.

We have re-read the Kon-Tiki book several times now--the part about the landing and the island they camped on for a week before they were discovered by the Raroians from across the atoll. And we have studied the pictures in the book.

The biggest problem is this is all windward reef--even the islands themselves can be transient... they are piles of coral rubble and sand, topped with island vegetation. A really big storm could easily significantly change the landscape.

The narrative in the book talks about a big rock they piled all their stuff on, on the reef. The island that they ultimately camped on had much vegetation, the smell of flowers, palm trees, and white birds, with more islands 'distant in the blue haze' to the north, and another island with more vegetation to the south. They talk about eating big hermit crabs. Every islet that we went on yesterday (about 6 of them in total) fit that description.

The book shows pictures of them planting a palm tree brought with them from the coast of South America (62 years ago). We have visually checked every old, tall palm tree. You would think that someone would nail or tie a simple sign to the darned tree!!

The book also talks about them getting help from the islanders and the boat from Tahiti to drag Kon-Tiki in over the reef to the lagoon, and then tying Kon-Tiki up to a palm tree. We found a really big pile of really big rope wrapped around a palm tree.

We also found lots of windward debris--rum bottles, a little bit of plastic, and the inevitable assortment of shoes.

What we DIDN'T find was any sign of any man-made thing that looked like it might be a monument.

Barbara described the monument in the picture in the article as "a coral monument (a pile of coral) about 3 feet high and 4 feet wide", and Jim gave us a few more visual clues to look for on the island. So we're going back today--to exactly visit the waypoint on the reef (just for fun), and check out one of the islands that we visited yesterday that most closely matches this (from Jim's examination of the photos):

"The island they are on appears to be about 150' across and about 40-60 feet wide. It is covered in trees and has about 6-7 palm trees sticking out of the top of the tree line. There is a single palm tree sticking prominently above the other
trees at one end (don't know which end though...sorry) For reference, when exploring the islands, inside the island there is one palm tree that is almost horizontal for about 10 feet about waist high. The monument is not at the edge of the trees, but is somewhere in amongst the trees."

The wind is blowing 20-25 knots out of the east, so we're not going anywhere anytime soon. So this at least gives us something to do. It is as much fun as looking for Pancho Villa's gold!!

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Friday, July 23, 2010

In Rarioa, Near Kon-Tiki's Landing Place

Current Location: Raroia Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°03.49'S / 142°21.47'W

We just arrived after an overnight motorsail from Makemo. Originally we had been waiting for SE winds to sail this leg, but when we saw a low wind opportunity to just motor on through, we took it. That way, we can use the expected SE winds to sail up to the Marquesas.

We left Makemo after 24 hours of light winds, on the slack tide at 1:30pm. The day was sunny and the winds were only 5 knots, and the seas were down--perfect! We were motorsailing directly on course at about 5 knots. Literally 15 minutes after we cleared the pass at Makemo a squall line appeared ahead of us. Oh no! All of a sudden we had 15-20 knots right on our nose, 100% cloud cover, and it didn't look like it was going away anytime soon. We even talked about turning around and going back to Makemo.

But we decided to just tack off and hope it went away. After about an hour of nasty weather, the winds gradually diminished and the skies cleared again. We ended up motoring the rest of the night in about 5kts ENE, averaging 5 knots for the night--not too bad in the open ocean directly up wind.

We arrived off the Raroia pass about 4:30am, and hove to to wait for daylight. At 7:15am, we had plenty of light, but the current in the pass was still running kind of strong. We waited another 15 minutes and then went in. We measured about 4 knots of outgoing current at 07:40. But with not much wind, it was no big deal--we just stayed left, out of the visible 'white water', and motored right in.

Rarioa is the atoll that Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki made landfall after their 101 day voyage in a raft from the coast of Peru. Our guidebook (Charlie's Charts) has a sketch of the atoll that shows the approximate location of the raft's perilous trip in the surf and over the reef--but unfortunately no GPS waypoint. A few notes we scratched in our book--from some cruiser we don't remember--said to head for the 2 palm trees next to 2 groups of 3 islands. That's where we are.

We hauled out our copy of Kon-Tiki to re-read Thor Heyerdahl's account, and look at the pictures. No help there, except that it was a low part of the reef somewhere in the middle of the eastern side of the atoll, within wading distance of another island that has more land and palm trees. Supposedly there's a monument out here somewhere, but we haven't gone ashore to investigate yet.

Someone might use Google Earth to check our location, and email us if there is a waypoint in GE shown for Kon-Tiki.

We'll stay here til we get a 3-4 day window with some southeast winds, WITHOUT all the squalls that usually accompany SE winds around here. Next stop... Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas (we hope).
At 7/22/2010 9:27 PM (utc) our position was 16°03.48'S 142°21.47'W

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Made the Jump to Makemo

Current Location: Makemo Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°37.62'S / 143°34.28'W

We did take the nice weather window to go overnight from Tahanea to Makemo--another 50 miles upwind.

We left the pass at Tahanea just before sunset, and were able to sail most of the night, arriving at our destination at the pass at the west end of Makemo about 1am. Then we decided that, rather than loitering around there until daybreak, and then motoring inside the atoll toward the east end, we would keep sailing around the atoll to the east pass. We thought we'd be able to sail most of the way and arrive off the east pass at around 7am.

However, we had not counted on the strong westerly current that we encountered when we cleared the northern tip of Makemo. At our boat speed and tacking angle, we were almost going backwards. So we finally started the engine about 3am. By that time, we'd messed around and lost enough time that we had to motor pretty hard 20 miles against the wind and seas in order to not be too late reaching the pass.

I had calculated slack current to be about 7am, and we didn't reach the pass until about 8:30am--by that time the outgoing current was getting pretty strong. Since the wind conditions were not too bad, we decided to go ahead and try getting in, rather than waiting for another slack in 6 hrs.

We crept into the pass from the west side, getting as close to the shore as we could before actually entering the current stream, and then pushing up to full RPM with sails up. We stayed out of the main channel as much as possible--Dave was on the bow calling the shots. I was fighting with the helm in the current boils, and watching our position on the chart plotter and the GPS.

At one point all three position devices showed us going a different speed and direction. The Garmin GPSMAP 76 CSx was particularly goofy... with the arrow showing us going north, but the position was actually moving south. (This is because the display switches from plotted COG to a built-in compass that activates when you drop to a very slow speed. The compass doesn't work well when the GPS is sitting in it's mount on the helm--it needs to be held level to work properly. I have since disabled the compass feature). Our Maxsea chart program, working from the same GPS, showed us creeping at about 5 knots in the right direction... most of the time.

We could see we were making progress by watching the shoreline. But it was really slow, and really hard keeping the boat in the right place with the strong current. At that RPM we should have been making about 7 knots, but we made less than a knot for about 15 minutes. That means the current was running at about 6 knots!!! Another hour and we would have gotten pushed right back out the channel.

Because of the current, and pretty good light, we decided to skip going all the way in on the main channel, and take the short cut. It looked a lot smoother, but the current was running stronger (shallower water). But we made it through OK.

We anchored off the town dock in what looked like nice sand--but what turned out to be sheet rock, covered by thin sand, and liberally sprinkled with coral heads. When I snorkeled our anchor, it wasn't even set--we had managed to drape the chain over a coral head, and the anchor was just hanging there on the other side of the coral head.

We also discovered eventually that we had anchored almost in the middle of the town outrigger canoe races. This was 'Heiva' week, and today's activities were apparently canoe races. The races started out near our stern and finished in close to the town dock. Everyone in town was out watching the races. There were men and women singles, doubles, and group races. A few times a canoe would flip in the middle of the race. It was fun to watch and we had a ring-side seat.

We should have jumped in the dinghy right away to go hang out with the townspeople, but we were tired, needed to get the boat cleaned up from our passage, and needed to find out what the schedule was for the stores and the post office.

We also needed to do something about our anchoring situation. The forecast for the next few days was for very strong SE winds, and we had poor holding and no protection where we were. We finally decided to go into the dock. Makemo has a really nice new big concrete pier. We had heard from other boaters that you could tie up to it for no charge. There were several catamarans tied side-to to the head of the pier, but we knew that the supply ship was coming in a couple of days, and they would want that spot. So we went in bow-to just in from the head of the pier. The wind was blowing us off the side of the pier, so we didn't need to immediately worry about setting a stern anchor.

After we got the bow secured with 2 lines into two separate stainless steel rings on the dock, Dave dinghied out the stern anchor, and I got in the water to help set it. Again the sand wasn't very deep. As I snorkeled around, I saw remnants of where other cruisers had tied off to the coral heads. So that's what we did eventually--we pulled in the anchor and set 2 lines astern to 2 different coral heads.

The wind has been blowing now for 4 days at 20-25 knots. The concrete pier protects us from the waves, and we are very secure. Eventually we had 3 monohulls and 4 catamarans, AND the supply boat all tied to the pier.

And best of all, we have wifi on the boat. It is the for-pay 'Manaspot', operated by the French Poly Telecommunications bureau, and situation in the post office. If you buy your minutes in bulk, it only costs about $2/hr, and the time is usable in most of the towns in French Polynesia. The internet comes into the island on a satellite link. At times it is so slow that it is unusable, but early in the morning and late at night, it's not too bad.

We plan to hang out here until this bout of 'reinforced trade winds' subside, and then either make a short hop (another 75 miles) ENE to the atoll at Raroia, or directly about 450 miles NE to the Marquesas. Depends on how long the weather window looks. Unfortunately, this time of year, the SE winds don't last very long--and they are usually predecessors to the squally and 'blowing like stink' phase of the weather cycle.
At 7/13/2010 7:58 PM (utc) our position was 16°37.62'S 143°34.28'W

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Saw the Total Eclipse!!!

When we awoke yesterday morning at 05:30am, we were upset to find about 75% overcast and fairly squally weather. But we got underway at 06:15 as planned, for the viewing site about 5 miles from our anchorage.

We anchored off the small motu (islet along the reef) where we had planted the measurement equipment the day before. We dinghied ashore and hiked south along the eastern shore to where the southernmost photometer had been set up. We arrived on station about 07:30 am. Full totality was not expected until 08:34am.

Dave and Lydie Checking Out the Start of the Eclipse

By 07:30, the eclipse had started, and we played around with the cardboard 'Eclipse Viewing Glasses' that we'd been issued. I took a bunch of photos of the partial eclipse through the glasses, with varying success.

"Look, there's the Eclipse!"

Lydie eventually decided to walk further south along the shore--it was much easier now as the tide was much lower than when we'd been there the day before. She ended up watching nearly a quarter mile south of where we were, and got a much longer 'totality' than we did.

It was a squally day, and we prayed that we would have a clear view of the sun during the eclipse. We did get rained on a few times, but nothing serious. Fortunately, the sun kept coming out, and we ended up with a very good view of the sun during the totality. Since I was assigned stopwatch duty, I didn't get any pics DURING the totality, but Dave ended up getting some GREAT pictures.

He took them using the camera settings that one of the scientists had told him to use, and they came out really clear and nice. Plus the Canon camera time-stamps to the second, so we have accurate times on the pictures as well. We hope that they are of some use to someone--beyond the amusement of our friends and family.

Lydie and Dave Dismantling the Photometers

We only saw about 20 seconds of totality. But we had to wait around for another hour and a half for the equipment to shut itself down. We dismantled the 3 photometers on that island, and then motored east to another motu to pick up the last one. We weren't back in our anchorage until nearly 3pm.

At 03:30pm, San Saens, the charter boat with the other scientists, anchored next to us to pick up Lydie. Then they hauled anchor and headed back to the pass, for an overnight trip to Fakarava. They will all fly back from Fakarava, and then Arnold, the captain, will take the boat back to Raitea.

The Scientific Crew Leaving

Though we'd like to hang out here for another day or two, we see a good weather window to head for Makemo tonight. So we are planning to head out the pass around 4:30pm this afternoon, for a short overnight to Makemo. If we miss this weather window, it may well be another 7-10 days before we get another good window.
At 7/11/2010 4:13 PM (utc) our position was 16°57.21'S 144°34.83'W

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Waiting for The Total Eclipse of the Sun

Current Location: SE Corner of Tahanea, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Tahanea's SE Corner And the Edge of Totality
Optimum Viewing Spot on the Left, our Anchorage on the Right
Blue Line Shows Edge of Totality

We have been anchored here for a few days now, enjoying the solitude. We are not completely alone any more. A Canadian boat whose name we can't quite read with the binoculars, came in 2 days ago and anchored about a half a mile away. They, like us, have been mostly hanging out on their boat doing 'boat chores'. We were going to swing by yesterday in the dinghy on our way ashore, just to say hi, but we were running out of daylight before we finally got in the dinghy. Maybe tomorrow.

A third boat came in sometime yesterday. They anchored so far to the north of us that we didn't even know they were there until we saw a dinghy go by. "Where did that come from?" We had to get out the binoculars to see them.

But now we have met them. It is a boat from Dream Charters' charter fleet, with 5 scientists from France, here to study the eclipse. It is a 52-foot Jeanneau-style sailboat. They were running around in their dinghy looking for diesel fuel--they had planned to refuel in Makemo but found they could not obtain any until the supply boat came in a few days. So we sold them 10 gallons from our precious stock, and then were invited to help them out with their scientific observations.

Dr. Lydie Sichoix, Associate Professor from the University of French Polynesia, Shows Us a Photometer

Apparently, a total eclipse is a great way to measure the diameter of the sun. So their task is to place photometry devices around on the atolls to record the time and location of the eclipse. The eclipse is making a swath of totality who's northern border is just going to cut across the SE corner of Tahanea, where we are. That makes Tahanea a prime measurement spot.

So yesterday, we loaded up on their boat and went down to one motu in the extreme SouthEast end, and anchored temporarily to plant 4 Picali Photometre Solaire devices. Then they are going to leave one of the scientists with us today, and sail to another atoll 20 miles away to observe the eclipse from there (Motutunga). We will keep Lydie with us, take her to the proper spot to observe the eclipse, and then retrieve the photometry devices. When they return from Motutunga, they will take Lydie and the photometers and leave immediately for Fakarava.

Setting up the Photometers

Checking the Angle Precisely

The Photometer Set Up

It is still blowing like stink here (20+ knots) from the East. In lighter winds, we would go down and spend the night at the proper spot, but it is really rough down there. So we will spend the night tonight anchored comfortably here in our sheltered spot, and then get up early and go down at first light (about 5 miles away). The eclipse will start at about 0720 am and reach totality about 0824am here on the 11th (actually 1824 UTC).

(These calculations came from, for location 16.9871S 144.6639W))

We are just on the very edge of the path of totality, so the scientists say that we will only have totality for about 10-20 seconds. Dave is going to take our camera and try to take pictures. And the scientists gave us some plastic viewing glasses. They are similar in form to the cardboard glasses you get at 3D movies, but with much darker plastic--made for viewing solar events.

We have also been issued chronometers supplied by a professor at Yale University, to time the totality. One of the things being studied is how the irregularity of the surface of the moon (which is causing the totality) affects the eclipse, and their efforts to measure the diameter of the sun.

We are excited to actually be involved in a scientific experiment, rather than just hanging out here drinking beer!
At 7/8/2010 12:14 AM (utc) our position was 16°57.21'S 144°34.83'W

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Back in Tahanea, Chainhook Recovered

Dave has been adamant that we stop in Tahanea on our way East toward the Marquesas... partly because of the free stainless steel chain hook waiting for us there, and partly because it is so beautiful. So when the wind stayed way more north of east than forecast, and lightened up (also not really forecast by the GRIBS), we made a quick decision to haul ass overnight from Fakarava S to Tahanea, the night before last. Our course was about 110 degrees, and with light NE winds, it wasn't really sailable, but nicely motorsailable.

Back at Lovely Tahanea (This Time All Alone)

Because of pass issues, only 11 hours of daylight, and the 49 mile passage to windward, we opted to do this as an overnight passage. We went out the S Fakarava pass at slack tide at 3pm, and motorsailed as reasonably fast as we could on port tack, until about midnight, when the wind direction went, as forecast, more east. At low RPMS with only the reefed main up, we made 4.5 knots right on course.

Then when only 20 miles from the Tahanea pass, we turned off the engine and tacked comfortably in the light air til dawn (somewhat ineffectually, but making about 1.5 to 2kts toward our Tahanea waypoint). We went through the middle pass at Tahanea at 0830 with 2-3 knots of incoming current, but only 10 knots of E wind, so pass conditions were not bad.

There were 3 boats anchored west of the middle pass when we entered at 8:30am, but no one responded to our VHF call. We recognized Tao 8 from a distance, but they're not close enough friends to bother with--we had only met them in passing in one anchorage in Western Panama 2 years ago. We certainly weren't interested in either anchoring there near them, or even trying to entice them down to our private spot.

From the pass, we proceeded directly east to the waypoint that John on Nakia had given us, where he lost his nice Stainless Steel chainhook (plus the attached snubber line) in 50' of water, the night that we had the bad storm there in May. While anchored together in Anse Amyot, over John's delicious Chicken Enchiladas, we had traded our spare non-SS chainhook for his waypoint. His waypoint was located just W of the big coral reef inside the NE corner of Tahanea, that we had snorkeled on the day before the storm.

A chainhook, for the non-sailor, is a hefty hook that is designed to hook around anchor chain. You attach a strong stretchy line to the hook, and hook the hook around your chain about 10 feet off the bow of the boat. The line comes back to a cleat (attachment point) on the bow. The stretchy line is designed to take the strain of the anchor as the boat moves around, instead of putting the strain on the non-stretchy anchor chain and expensive windlass (machine that helps you roll in and out the heavy chain and anchor). In rough weather, without a 'snubber', as the hook and line arrangement is called, it is common to snap even very hefty chain, and/or your bow roller or windlass. There are several wrecked sailboats in the Tuamotus caused by snapped chains in rough weather.

Nakia's Stainless Steel Chainhook

It is not unusual in very rough weather to break the line on the snubber, which is what happened to Nakia in the middle of the storm. Most boats in rough weather will have a backup snubber as well as the primary, which Nakia had. In the wild weather we had in Tahanea 2 months ago, their primary snubber snapped and the chainhook dropped off into the deep water. Just for referece, this chainhook probably cost about $30.

Back to the salvage operation... we tried to drop our anchor just ahead of the waypoint, trying to position Soggy Paws' stern right over the spot. We didn't want to mess up the situation with our anchor and chain dragging around. But I missed the spot a little, so we ended up with the waypoint between our anchor and the boat (90' from the GPS in the cockpit, ahead, and slightly port).

We were sitting in 55', so I personally didn't have much hope of locating it from the surface, and the idea of coming back to a waypoint 2 months later and finding something that small was a little ridiculous. However, Dave wanted to look for it, so there we were.

We lucked out and managed to arrive there toward the end of the incoming tide, in fairly settled weather, so the water was about as clear as it gets inside an atoll. Though the water is crystal clear outside, inside the atolls, the water is often only 10-20 foot visibility.

We could see things on the bottom from the surface, and only had to snorkel down about 10 feet to have a pretty good look at the bottom. Dave and I jumped in the water with only snorkel gear and snorkeled up either side of the boat as far as the anchor. Within 5 minutes Dave had located the hook and attached line, about 20' from our bow. Ain't non-dithered GPS AMAZING?! Dave had to point it out to me twice at the surface before I managed to see it, so he's got a pretty good eye for it. It was a 3" chainhook with about 15' of 1/2 inch line attached. He says "That's why I'm a Navy salvage diver."

At 55 feet, it was too deep for Dave to snorkel down and recover (he had already tried twice by the time I got there). But I made one attempt at it, and managed to reach the bottom, grab the line, and head for the surface. It was tough, but much easier than hauling out our tanks, etc. So now we have a nice shiny SS chain hook to add to our collection.

We then proceeded directly to our old anchor spot in the SE corner. See 'Lovely Lovely Tahanea' in May 2010.

After weeks of anchoring in groups of cruisers and lots of socializing, we are very very happy to be Alone At Last. I'm sure within a couple of days we'll be lonely and will be back on the net trying to get someone to stop in here and keep us company, but for now we are happy.

We plan to stay here until the eclipse on July 11th, and then take the first weather window after that to Makemo for supplies (hopefully in time for Bastille Day on July 14). We are still targeting arrival in the Marquesas for about Aug 1.
At 7/6/2010 6:48 PM (utc) our position was 16°57.22'S 144°34.83'W

South Fakarava Revisited

Dates: June 26-July 3
Anchorage Location: S Fakarava Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°31.26'S / 145°28.35'W
We had a nice time revisiting South Fakarava again. This time we anchored on the other side of the pass, where we heard from others that the anchoring was much better. Charlie's Charts only shows an anchorage on the north side of the pass, which the electronic charts cover pretty well. But last time we found only depths of 45 feet and lots of coral, with little protection from any northerly winds. Below I'll list a couple of waypoints to get into the south side anchorage from the main channel.
We ended up anchoring in 12-15 feet, with good sand and only scattered coral heads. In this area there is enough space to easily anchor 10 or so boats. There is a shallow coral bar to the north, and another one to the south, and the rim of the atoll to the east, so there is reasonable protection from North around East to the SW. There are a number of uninhabited atolls with palm trees and beaches within dinghy distance of the anchor area.
It is a little longer dinghy ride from the south side to the pass to go diving. We spent one afternoon looking for a shortcut across the shallow reef between us and the pass, but never found much of a shortcut. We could get across at high tide by picking our way very carefully with the engine half-cocked, but at low tide, with tanks in the dinghy, we would have never made it. So it is about a mile and a half dinghy ride to the pass (but the pass is also mile from the anchorage on the north side).
We got very strong E-NE winds for a few days due to a passing high pressure south of us. But we did manage to fit in 2 pass dives and one lunch with Manihi at Pension Motu Aito.
Manihi's pension (guesthouse) is the one with the red roof just ashore from the north pass anchorage. It is much more extensive than it looks from the water. He stands by on VHF 08, and can arrange a very nice polynesian lunch or dinner for groups of cruisers (2000 CFP per person). If you have friends flying in who would rather stay ashore, this is a VERY nice place to hang out. Much nicer than the pension at Tetamanu. Check them out at or email or PH 74-26-13.
We were waiting for light SE winds to hop up to Raraka, about 45 miles NE. But as the NE winds persisted, we decided to skip Raraka and head straight for Tahanea.
At 7/2/2010 6:28 PM (utc) our position was 16°31.26'S 145°28.34'W
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