Monday, December 2, 2019

In search of

So...There I was*......

A couple of months ago, my beloved bride walked in while I was slaving away trying to write a post.  Deadlines were fast approaching and Sarge, the slavedriver our beloved leader, was inquiring about its status. Realizing the arrival of a higher power than even Sarge, I ceased typing and turned my attention to Mrs J.  (I ain't no dummy.  Well...most of the time.)

"juvat, you know that since I am a travel agent, that I've got to visit places and do things, right?"

"Yes, Dear"

"Well, one of those times is upon us."

"Yes, Dear"

"I, meaning you and I, have to go on a cruise."

"Yes, Dear"

"We're going to sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Fort Lauderdale."

"Yes, Dear"   (whilst thinking "That ought to take about a day."

"And visit 8 other islands, in between."

"Yes, Dear"  (See?  I'm quite the conversationalist.)

"Oh, and it's all inclusive"

"Oh...shucky Darn!  I'll bet they don't have any fresh Scotch, they probably only have that old stuff to drink.  Well, Dear, if that's what we need to do, I guess I'll just suck it up and go along."

So we did.  The cruise line was SilverSea  and the Ship was the Silver Whisper.  It's a smaller ship, only holds 388 passengers and about the same in crew.  But smaller means that it can get into smaller ports that the big ships can't get into.

This wasn't our first cruise on SilverSea, that would have been last year when Sarge and I had our grand meet up.   Given that experience, I was glancing around as we were boarding.  It looked very much like I was a shoe-in for that coveted cruise award, the Youngest Passenger.  (My beloved wife/travel agent being a couple of months more experienced in life than I.)

I was mentally rehearsing my acceptance speech while participating in the lifeboat drill, when I noticed a family from Norway.  There were 6, two grandparents, two parents, and an 18 month and a 3 year old.  Brought the average age of the passenger list down by about 20 years they did.

First stop was St Thomas and the excursion took us on a jeepney to the top of the mountains overlooking the port.  There were a couple of "leap of faith" hairpin turns along the way.  That would be where the road both changes direction as well as elevation, and the driver can neither see oncoming traffic or whether the road even exists on the other side.

Got the heart rate up a bit, yes it did.  Almost as much as when he backed in to a parking space at the top.  Being at the back of the jeepney, I could see the 3 inch high "curb" disappear under the car as we continued to roll back.  I exchanged a glance with the guy sitting beside me as we had a fantastic, unobstructed view all the way down to the ocean.  The rum tasting that followed was much appreciated.

Next stop was Gustavia on St Barts where the natives speak Frawnch!  A very nice port where I discovered something I didn't know.


This is were old NCOs live in the hereafter.

It is also where I started my search for....The Lair!







Lair requirements include seclusion and limited access and the "See 'em coming" distances should be extensive.

This one fit the bill.



Oh, and it should have multiple modes of evacuation.

Such as:


For those interested MV Utopia sleeps 12 and is available for $465/week**.


Next stop was Antigua where, even with 5 cruise ships in port, there is absolutely NO shortage of cab drivers!  After repeating the statement "No, I don't want a cab!" at least 200 times we turned around and walked back to the dock...maybe 200 yards.

The next morning dawned in Fort-de-France, Martinique and our planned excursion was Rum and Bananas.  No, Beans, Rum is not made from bananas.  It's made from sugar cane which, along with Bananas, is Martinique's main export.
The distillery  had a nice tour of the original facility along with its machine shop.  Unfortunately, my phone was giving me fits at the time and I got no pics of that.  Mrs J wasn't as interested in mid 1800s lathes and other tools as I was.  I thought the Banana plantation would be kinda boring, but, as usual, I was wrong.

Did you know that banana's don't grow on trees?  Nope...they're flowers.  See?  Not boring.

Les Saintes was another Lair opportunity, complete with a landing craft for invasion and/or retreat.

Another day, another Island.  This time we're back with Ze Frawnch on Les Saintes, where we're going to learn to appreciate Rum and Chocolate.  The port is very small (we tendered in) and only has one street.  Nevertheless, we nearly got run over by motorcycles.

OK, not Harleys, more like Vespas.  But Granny's on Vespas will kill you just as dead.

The rum tasting was entertaining.  Unlike wine tasting, you don't stick your nose in the glass.  I learned that when the young lady leading the tasting corrected me.  Oh,  and you don't chew chocolate.  I learned that in a similar fashion.

I think I was her favorite.

Sunday morning dawned and we're on Sint Maarten, Netherland Antilles.  Most of you know it from the picture of the 747's landing over the top of people on the beach.   While on board ship, we had made friends with another couple, the husband of the pair was a retired airline pilot.

Yes, Beans, we talked a lot about flying, using our hands and all.  He won the story telling competition when he mentioned that he happened to be airborne on 9/11.  Interesting guy.

Anyhow he had mentioned that runway, and our intent was to visit that beach site (sight?).   However, one of the drawbacks to sailing on a small ship is it doesn't have a lot of passengers, meaning there's minimal return for cab drivers to work on Sunday.  Where were all those Cabby's we'd turned down in Antiqua?


But there was a potential Lair site.  High atop this hill is a platform which might suffice.

Alternate escape route, juvat?

Sarge, that would be the zip line that you leap off the platform on.

No, Beans, it wasn't open either.

Island stop #7 is Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, BVI, where we're going to visit the Baths.  By now, Mrs J and I (but mostly me) are shopped out.  This excursion is a visit to a beach with a walk through a field of basalt rocks.


Yes, I was a bit concerned about this section.  I made it through, head first and on my back.


One more Lair.  This one was a spotting tower for the fort across the bay.  Chanters who might have been Cannon cockers in a prior life can probably better explain, but I think the spotting towers would help with ranging targets.

Final island?  Key West.  Visited Hemingway's house.  Did not know that he (and his wife) had gone ashore at Normandy to report on the invasion.  Received a Bronze Star for it.

And, because Jimmy Buffett, we visited Margaritaville. Been there...got the T-shirt....Now.

Very relaxing trip, caught up on a lot of reading, learned some stuff,  enjoyed some Rum and Scotch, but, as always, it's good to be home.

*SJC

**Oops..... $465K/week...c'mon! What's three zeros between friends?  Maybe when I win the lottery...the fourth time.

42 comments:

  1. Just drinking and singing???? No lathe or machine shop photos?!?!?! I'm..... speechless..... Oh, yeah, it's Monday alright.

    That is really neat to see. I have absolutely no desire to ride around to see islands. If the boats wheels fall off, I can't swim home. My missus on the other hand.... she has champaign tastes on a water budget. She'd fit right in to that 465K a night crowd... I can't even afford the zeros on the end!!!

    Nice pictures tho. Thanks for the vicarious tour.

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    1. Thanks STxAR.

      Well...They do have lifeboats, which they used to tender us to shore on about half the stops. Loading is 80 passengers for tendering and 150 for use in emergency. We maxed out the tender limit once or twice and accomodations were...cozy. The lifeboat limit might be just barely better than the alternative.

      I'm not sure I could fit in with the 465K a week (not night, that would be outrageous), but I wouldn't mind trying.

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  2. I am glad you spent time on your vacation looking for a suitable place for Chant World Headquarters, er, I mean, your "lair."

    Nice photos, another excellent travelogue. (No, you can't have a raise in order to afford MV Utopia, next Tuna will want to buy an airplane or something. No doubt Beans wants a medieval castle on the Rhine with modern amenities. You guys...)

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    1. Thanks, Sarge. I see your point, but at least you've got St Barts to look forward to.

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    2. Much better than building your lairs on potentially active volcanoes, which most of those sharp, pointy island mountains are. When Mount Grumpy gets to blowing, you'd better have a really friggin good escape plan.

      Germany just has to worry about jihad, reSoviet Russia, France, Merkel, the coming ice age. Much safer than volcanoes.

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    3. Well, you've got to have semiactive volcanoes for a lair. How else are you going to have flipping chairs to get rid of incompetent henchmen?

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    4. Just remember, O Fearless Leader, once you say "Off with their heads" there is no "On with their heads."

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    5. Unless you've perfected cryonics...

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  3. Echoing STxAR for the neat tour. A cruise ship with under 450 passenger capacity is just the right size. Boy it's a rough job helping Mrs. J with her work but SOMEONE has to do it. Tropical locations just the thing this morning juvat, minus eleven up in Ely.

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    1. The sacrifices one must make for one's spouse. Ah well....

      It was actually quite hot on most of the islands as it's the end of summer effectively there. Not much breeze and highs in the mid-80s low 90s, and, of course, high humidity. When I commented on that to the guide at Spanish Town, she mentioned the above and said December was the start of the Tourist Season as that was when the breezes resumed. (Along with the usual reasons, holidays, school out etc.) I realized that she was right and every other time I'd visited were between December and June.

      -11? I get chilled just typing that. Only 32 now down here.

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  4. I've been on a total of two cruises I need my life, both on big ships - they were OK, but my friends who swear by Silver Sea say the smaller vessels with that line are much nicer, and your report seems to confirm that. I may have to give them a try. But any cruise ship seems like the double decker buses in London - good for an overview of an area to help decide where you want to come back to for a longer stay. Scouting expedition, if you will.

    When y'all were on St. Martin, you might have been able to see the little Dutch island of Saba. Lovely place, only accessible by sea or by STOL aircraft like the Otter. Look up the videos of the landings and take offs there. Kinda like recovery and launch from a carrier. (Evidently many years ago a Tomcat driver decided it would be fun to do a touch and go off the runway, ignoring the big white 'X' on each end of the runway. Evidently was quite the local sensation!) (no, his call sign wasn't Maverick). And Mt. Scenery on that island is the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. I had a very enjoyable climb up the stone stairs all the way to the top on a beautiful Christmas Day, 1990. I was the only one on the trail, and the view was breathtaking - so was the climb, literally!! Not sure I could do that again, at least not without a lot of breaks and a lot of naproxen! But I was the highest personnel in the Metherlands at that moment, with no controlled substances involved.

    So which one of the potential lairs (aka Chant World Headquarters) have you put an offer on?

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    1. I'd say that bus analogy is a fair assessment, Tom. However, I like the unpack once, see several places aspect of them also. Haven't been many places on a cruise that I wanted to stay much longer than we did. SilverSea does a pretty good job of arriving at the port early and leaving late, so you generally get a full day of seeing things. Other cruise lines don't necessarily do that especially the really big Ships. Tying up to a dock for a long period gets expensive and tendering a couple of thousand (or more) people ashore isn't much less expensive, so they tend to come in late and leave early.

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    2. Tom, I hit publish too fast. Since SilverSea does most of their sailing at night, I think that was when we passed Saba. I have seen that island on a couple of previous cruises and agree. It would make an excellent lair. And, I'm not sure I trust anyone else to fly me to and from that runway. So, I guess I'd have to get recurrent.

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    3. If you do end up flying there, make sure to remember to do the obligatory low and slow downwind leg to chase the goats off the runway! And when you take off again, you'll get a feel for what naval aviators go thru (or went thru in the days of piston aircraft) when their aircraft sinks a bit coming off the deck, before going airspeed and height. But the pilots on this otters are pretty good - I only caught my breath once during the landings and takeoffs.

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    4. Yeah, I prefer aircraft that don't sink right after takeoff. Thrust to weight ration of better than 1:1 is my cup of tea.

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  5. Debra Reynolds/doorkeeperDecember 2, 2019 at 7:06 AM

    Thanks for a lovely virtual vacation. Two questions, have you ever been to Grenada? Perhaps the Mrs. should consider it. Our daughter went to grad school there (and is now a veterinarian!) so we made 4 trips in 3 years, and stayed on the economy, it's a lovely place, and quite inexpensive. Not very touristy except for a couple of spots (pier where RC and some of the big cruise lines stop for 4 hours, is all.) Also, what's this about bananas? I could swear I drove by the tops of 40 foot (and more) banana trees (yep, Grenada is very mountainous, for such a little island!) I'll read the attached. Your story almost makes me want a new career as a travel agent....

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    1. My pleasure. I have been to Grenada once in 2006. I agree that it is a very beautiful island.

      Well...according to the tour guide, the Banana plant is a grass (Wikipedia says flower). Each Banana entity, grows one bunch of bananas each season, after which the stem (looks like a trunk) is cut off at ground level. Another stem emerges at the beginning of the next season. The banana bunch is actually sell pollinating having both male and female aspects. The whole process of pollination to harvesting takes less than a month, so the trunks are cut to ground level at different times so banana production is virtually continuous year round. Of course, the tropical climate helps with that also.
      Thanks, Mrs J has organized a 48 person wine cruise for our winemaker friends in January. My role in the venture is pouring wine, but hey, it keeps me off the streets at night.

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    2. It is a grass, the bananas are just products of the flower. If you let your house grass grow, it will flower too, and produce seed pods, just not as tasty as bananas.

      Interestingly, like bamboo in China, bananas have a great die-off cycle where the majority of the living plants die off, and then the population regrows back to its numerous former numbers. Cycles for species of bamboo range from 100 to 1,000 years and so it sucks when a bunch of varieties of bamboo all croak together, especially for pandas. Same-same with bananas, and we are supposedly entering into a great-die off cycle for naners right now, according to the scientists. Of course, these are the same scientists who proclaimed animal fat bad, then good, then bad, then good, so take it for what it's worth.

      And, banana plants really don't like freezing temperatures. Many banana plants in Florida (more ornamental than production) were thrashed most mightily by the same freezing temps that destroyed so many orange groves north of Orlando.

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    3. Didn't know that about die off periods. Interesting. Never been a big fan of Bananas, but it was an interesting visit, and they did have banana wine. Napa doesn't have anything to worry about.

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  6. I like the small ship cruising.
    The Rhine cruise we took last summer further restricted it to no passengers under eighteen.
    That was almost totally opposite of Navy cruises, where almost everyone was eighteen.

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    1. Yes, well....Each is entertaining in its own, inimitable, way. Although, I have to say, eighteen looks a heckuva lot younger than it did (when I was eighteen). Mrs J has been looking into European River Boat cruises. I'm not sure I all that interested. Kinda seems too much like Tom's bus analogy to me. Having never been assigned in Europe, I'm more inclined to go somewhere central with a rental car and tour what interests us at our own pace. Maybe a combination of the two. We'll see.

      The January trip will be a big ship cruise. After two smaller ship cruises in a row, it'll be interesting to see how we feel about the big ships now.

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    2. GS and I did a big ship, Pride of America in Hawaii, for Thanksgiving in 2010.
      It suited us because we were there for the cruising with my cousin and his wife, not port hopping.
      It was like being at a hotel where the scenery changes almost daily.
      I'd go for the central location and car, but I really can't get too excited about driving in unfamiliar places where they don't necessarily speak my language any more.

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    3. I guess driving in Japan got me used to it. Don't like driving in big cities regardless of location, but outside them I'm ok. As long as the Map is not Merde.

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    4. Skip- I concur with the river cruising- small intimate boats, outstanding food. Love that form of cruising. The big boats are fun, just big resorts afloat.

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    5. I guess my question is what is there to do on them? How long do they stay tied up at a stop vs how long are they sailing? I think I'd get pretty bored if they're sailing during the day. The other downside I've heard is if the water level is off, you can spend a lot of time in a bus going to the next place where the level is ok. Which kinda ruins the unpack once part of a cruise ship.

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  7. Even an airhead (oh, oops, I meant mighty flying man) like you should be able to understand a spotting post is for spotting. Yeesh, once they leave the ground all common sense leaves them.

    So, well, yeah, for to spot the target and to provide triangulation for rounds going to the target for ranging purposes. Very helpful if one is firing at targets not visible by the gun battery, as height gives longer viewing range.

    Set up two observation posts and using maths, which is hard for junior and senior birdmen apparently, the angle of the target from the ops can be used to determine pretty exactly where the target is and how fast and what direction is moving so the gun battery can hit the target where the gun crew thinks the target will be when the round that the gun crew fires finally arrives at the place that the target should be.

    Plus, they are good places to hang out during hurricanes, as they are usually made from lots of big rocks or concrete or both, and also a good place to retreat to when too much alcohol is imbibed by the people below the observation posts.

    Bad side to going up to an OP is, well, up. And also, well, pointy 'mountains' in the Caribbean are often tops of volcanoes. Some of them are the sides of really big volcanoes that went 'blooie' (a technical term for blowing the fruck up) but most are volcanoes quietly waiting their time to get freaky in the Caribbean version of the 'Ring of Fire.'

    Me? Nope. I'll just live on this overgrown sandbar and moldy limestone peninsula. Much safer and easier to egress from than volcanic islands.

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    1. To your point (see what I did there?), Saba is the hard core of an old volcano that has had the softer outer layer eroded. Very steep in most places. The above mentioned short, X marks the ends runway is the largest flat spot on the island. And it isn't completely natural, in that the flat spot had to be extended by the construction crew to give them what little length they have. And yes, the Caribbean islands have many hot spots just waiting to wake up at an opportune time, or inopportune if you happen to be living there or visiting at that time. For reference, see Montserrat in 1995 and Martinique in 1902.

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    2. One of the things about working current ops in the Pentagon for Southcom was the joy of working the Monserrat operation. So...I'm aware of volcanos.

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    3. Man Hogg used to say that field artillery played by ear, while coast defence gunners used a score. They have every square foot, out to the maximum range of the guns plotted. All the spotting towers need do, is send accurate cross bearings to the guns.

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    4. I figured that was the case, but I was curious how they passed that information back in the day (pre-cell phone/radio). Also how did they know which ship they were targeting?

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  8. While the pictures are lovely, and the concept sounds very nice...I would worry more about hurricanes in the "end of summertime" low cost specials in "the islands". Used to work with a nurse, who took her spouse every September and went to the Caribbean. Three years in a row she came back with horror stories of having to camp in the hotel lobby, with about 1000 of her new best friends while the hurricane beat the crap out of the island. So the fourth year they did a cruise...and got sicker than sick on the norovirus. Told her if she wanted to go camping that badly, that I knew a great spot in the Adirondacks. And the water was potable. The fifth year they went camping in VT, where there are also some very nice places with no restless natives, hurricanes, or lousy water.

    But you bring up some very good points to check on if I ever did do a cruise (maybe Alaska?) about what time the ship would get into port. And, yes, I think smaller would be a strong selling point for me!!


    Fun to think about in this 27* weather with 2 feet of snow on the ground and another foot on the way.

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    1. Well, we did purchase the trip insurance and keep a "weather" eye on the Atlantic. We did the hop on, hop off tour of Key West and the driver/tour guide did say that with only A1A as an access to or exit from, things get pretty sporty as the weather worsens.

      Alaska is an exceptional cruise, done it twice. If you decide to do it, I'd recommend adding a couple of days on one or the other end and take the train from Anchorage to Denali. It's one of those dome trains with food service below. There are long stretches where other than the train track and your fellow passengers, there's no sign that human life exists. Bears, Moose and other wild life abound though.

      Stay warm, Suz, Spring is just around the corner-ish. ;-)

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    2. Agree on the train trip from Anchorage to Denali, it was absolutely beautiful.

      I've yet to try smaller civilian cruises, it does sound much nicer that the really large cruise ships.

      My wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary with a Med cruise, and I enjoyed it much more than the Med cruise in the Navy.

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    3. I could see where an anniversary cruise would be better than the previous one.

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  9. Sounds like a wonderful trip, juvat!

    I've done enough work-related "cruising" that going on one of those 5k passenger Cattle Boats has ZERO appeal to me. I'd much rather be on a smaller ship like you took.

    My Sweet Little Wife was gone most of October on a cruise to the Med. Got to see Greece, Rome, and her favorite, Pompei.

    She also got to take part in the norovirus outbreak on the ship, and wound up being confined to quarters for four days.

    And she said she never wanted to go outside the USA any longer, as dealing with the customs people in various countries was NOT her idea of fun.

    Glad you enjoyed the trip!

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    1. Our Med cruise was fabulous! Even better than Pompei were the excavations in Ephesus. Buried in a mudslide they’re in much better shape.

      We’re pretty much sold on smaller boats now also. Even the customs folks seem more at ease. Even got one to smile on return.

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  10. Sounds and looks as if you guys had a lot of fun. I think altogether I've done an even dozen Caribbean cruises. Most on the big ones but a couple on the small ones. The food is better on the big ones, in my experience, but the small ones have their own charm. Caribbean ports are always a blast. I've often wondered what a port visit is like when you don't have to be looking over your shoulder for Shore Patrol. Someday I might have to try the civilian version. For science, you know.

    I read your post three times and didn't see anything about the ship's Crud tourney. You and Mrs. J didn't let the Norwegian oldsters prevail, did you? ;-)

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    1. Didn’t see a billiard table on board, and most of our fellow passengers were older. I’d say, at not quite 65, I was in the youngest 10% of the 290 passengers on board.

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  11. Y'all can enjoy those... I did my time on 'cruises'...

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    1. There’s a very subtle difference, Jim. Almost unrecognizable. ;-)

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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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