It’s Like Hunting For A Needle In A Haystack…. (Or A Chris-Craft In A Boat Shack)


Vintage 1938 Chris-Craft Brochure – courtesy Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive

Always the innovators, over 70 years ago in 1938 & 39, Chris-Craft produced just 70 copies of the now rare 19′ Sportsman – complete with the unusual aft facing rear seat… In some ways reminiscent of the rear facing seats in full size American made station wagons from the late 1950’s until the 1970’s.

But by far, the best way to describe this piece of wooden boat history is to simply refer to the original model description that the Marketing Department at Chris-Craft developed for their new 1938 Sales Brochure. We copied it word for word from the brochure, and it’s great!

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1938 Chris-Craft 19′ Sportsman Sales Brochure Photo

“There is something new under the sun! It is a brand new 19-ft. Sportsman — a versatile boat which sets a wholly new standard for comfort, convenience, roominess and seating capacity in the speedboat field. It’s a Chris-Craft, of course, designed by Chris-Craft, created by Chris-Craft, and made possible by Chris-Craft’s advanced engineering and complete facilities.”

“It has a big, roomy forward cockpit for driver and passengers; 2 single seats amidships, on port and starboard sides, face forward and provide additional carrying capacity. A new full width seat, facing aft, adds privacy to the boat and provides a new thrill for aft cock-pit passengers.”

“Of course, we’ve thought of the man who really wants to fish and that’s another reason for this unique seating arrangement. But don’t buy this boat unless you expect to be stared at—for in addition to its newness, it is fleet of foot and more beautiful than any boat of similar size. It is available with options of 60, 95, 118, and 128 h.p. motors, with speeds up to 37 m.p.h. Appointments are those of a custom runabout. Construction and materials are those that have carried Chris-Craft to the highest peak in the marine world.” – 1938 Chris-Craft Sales Brochure

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1939 Chris-Craft Brochure Image – courtesy Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive

However, with a total of only 70 – 19′ Sportsman’s ever produced in 1938/39, after more than 70 years you have to wonder how many of these cool aft facing seat utilities have survived the ravages of time (and ownership). That’s the focus of our story today, and once again we are reaching out to the Woody Boater community in an attempt to learn where those survivors may be located.

Our friend and fellow Woody Boater Tommy Mertaugh from Classic and Antique Boats in Hessel, Michigan is in the final stages of restoring a 1938 19′ Sportsman which arrived at his boat shop not only in need of a full restoration, but also in less than original condition as you will see. At some point during the 19′ Sportsman’s life, a previous owner made some significant modifications to the boat, and now Tommy is making every effort to ensure the restoration work is completed as close to the original Chris-Craft design and construction as possible. But he needs some help.

The Mertaugh Family has been selling, servicing and restoring wooden boats in the beautiful Hessel / Les Cheneaux Islands area of northern Michigan since 1925. Tommy Mertaugh and his team take pride in their award winning restorations with special emphasis on the details, making sure nothing is overlooked in the process.

We received this e-mail from Tommy Mertaugh yesterday.

Hi Texx – I was wondering if you may know or somehow can ask if anyone has a 1938-39 Chris-Craft 19′ Sportsman, with the rear facing rear seat. We are trying to find out for sure how the motor box area was constructed as well as the optional drop in center hatch system. The boat came to us with out either, actually it had a center hatch that was home made and certainly not by Chris-Craft. I thought with your vast readership that possibly someone has a 1938/39 19′ Sportsman that would be willing to share some info or photos with us. It is such a rare boat and cool, that we want to do it right and ensure it’s correct. It is a total rebuild. – Thank you tons!! – Tom Mertaugh

Here’s a quick (time lapse) summary of what the 1938 Sportsman looked like when it arrived at Classic and Antique Boats last year (I think) including right up until last week.

When the boat arrived at Tommy’s shop it had the appearance of a runabout, with home-made engine hatches, eliminating the engine box and mid-ship seating on each side of the engine box.

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Although the engine hatches were home-made and appear out of place on this utility, from this photo the hatches appear to have been built to fit the crown of the deck fairly well.

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The Sportsman was showing her age and in need of some TLC…

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So the crew at Classic and Antique Boats rolled her over and began to remove her bottom planks.

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It was quickly evident that the old planks were stressed and ready to be replaced…

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Once all the bottom planks were removed, they could get in and have a closer look at the 70 year-old structure to determine what needed to be replaced.

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And with Tommy’s time lapse photos, we jump ahead to see the new bottom planks going back on the Sportsman…

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And now she’s ready to be rolled back over to start on the sides. (Don’t we wish it was that quick and easy in real time?)

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Side planks removed and ready for more structural repairs and replacement…

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And side planks now going back on…

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On to the decks and related structural work…

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And before you know it, the 19′ Sportsman is ready for stain, etc.

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And before you know it, it’s 2004 – Like “Back to the Future”… OK – Who has been messing around with the camera settings?

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Everything was going great, restoration work is on schedule but now it’s “Go Time” – time to address the motor box area, as well as the optional drop in center hatch system and determine exactly how Chris-Craft originally built the structural components.

Tommy notes – “What we need is the motor box “sides” that are fastened to the boat and are really part of the jump seats too. We know from lots of top side pictures what the top looks like. Also the drop in center deck, which was an option. Also where the center deck may rest on the boat, like whether or not it had permenantly attached stringers or batons… I worry about when the center deck is in place it may damage the deck finish.??? So those are the two items where detailed photos from another original Sportsman would be very helpful.”

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“The photos (like the vintage Chris-Craft brochure photos in today’s story) show the top in detail, but the sides are not seen, I feel they have to be two piece, because I am certain with the original twin fuel tanks and seats, etc in there that they would be hard to remove in the event you have to service the engine. That is why I feel they must be 2 piece. So that’s another reason why original information from a 1938/39 Sportsman is so critical for us to locate if possible.” – Tom Mertaugh

Thanks Tommy – This is a very interesting and challenging project and we will do our best to reach out to the Woody Boater community here in an attempt to gather the information you are looking for to complete the Sportsman restoration properly.

If you have any information you can contact us at Woody Boater or you can also contact Tommy Mertaugh directly at his Classic and Antique Boats website.

You can say you consulted on a rare 1938 Chris-Craft restoration project and be the most popular guy at the lake this summer!

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Vintage Chris-Craft 19′ Sportsman – Photo Mariners’ Museum CC Archive


61 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Great story and I wish I could help, but I have never seen one of these models. However, what happened to the Boat Buzz column this morning. It seems to have mysteriously disapeared from the page.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Greg – The folks at the Chris-Craft club are experimenting with their brand new Boat Buzz Forum and we should have the feed back up on Woody Boater as soon as they work the bugs out.

      The new improved version of Boat Buzz looks great by the way…

  2. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    I seen the 4 gauge instrument panel the boat takes a couple days ago in a story you did on the Tavares, FL show. It’s still available.

  3. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    Thanks for the comments, and Jim we did find a 4 gauge panel locally, if you can believe it was on Craig’s List. The panel was all restored and it looks super. We also have a new banjo wheel from California Classic Boats, it came in the mail yesterday, and it is beautiful. They also furnished the clum switch.

  4. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    I may add that it is great that folks notice when the Boat Buzz thread is missing. You can see it “LIVE” by going to our website and clicking on Boat Buzz under Membership Benefits.

    One of the many Online Benefits is demonstrated above in Texx’s amazing story today. The Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive has hundreds of original Chris-Craft Brochures dating back to 1927. There are over 60,000 pages of information available in the Archive, including information for a few other boat companies.

    Great story, Texx! abd good luck, Tommy!

  5. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    I have been studying the pictures of the brochure and the last picture in the above story, and I notice if you look closely, there is no cockpit crash pad in the original brochure in the second cockpit, but in the last photo with the ladies in it, I see there is crash pad. I am wondering if this is maybe a clue and if the boats that had the removable center deck option had crash pad installed to keep the drop in deck from damaging the cockpit edges? Any insight from anyone will be very helpful. Thank you.

    • Greg Wallace
      Greg Wallace says:

      Hey Tom,

      Antique Boat Center in Cincy had one in the showroom, name on transom was “Nellie” may still be there.


  6. John Kadimik
    John Kadimik says:

    Tom, You might give Don Price @ St Lawrence a call. I know they were restoring a a 19 like the one you are doing. It is an original boat that hasn’t been modified. The “Nellie” shown in the picture was restored by an older gentleman up on Greenwood Lake, NY, who later sold her to Alan Jackson. I worked on one years ago but don’t remember the center cockpit configuration, but I do remember that with the original K engine the boat could hardly get on a plane with just one person.

  7. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    Love the towable surf board! We have one of those, if you don’t keep the nose up it will take you straight to the bottom!

  8. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    Thanks Greg! We did talk with Lou and he was very helpful. Thanks John, I will call Don Price and talk to him too. This boat has a KLC in it, we know not the original, but the customer wants to keep this engine in there. It seems like a wide boat and I figured a K would not be much power for the boat. Seems as if a M series would be a good choice, but the cockpit gets narrow adding a wider engine. Is it is the KLC we will have to move the left side of the motor box over 3/4″ to allow room forthe intake and carb. I would think a small V-8 would take way too much room up in the cockpit.

  9. Doug P
    Doug P says:

    There was one in Bellingham WA in the mid 90’s. Maybe Dave Berg knows where it is as he and I stored boats in the same barn as this one.



  11. David
    David says:

    I was at the Mariners Museum last week. I was looking at all of the line drawings for 1938-1942 runabouts and utilities. I cannot recall, but I would guess that they have the line drawings for this model, with other information. It was not a model I was looking for, but I probably had my hands on it. You may want to give Patti a call at the museum. She was very helpful to me in finding everything I was looking for last week.

  12. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    Hi Richard,

    With this boat all apart, we have found the hull ID number in several locations, there was one of the deck frame behind where the rear aft facing seat back goes, also there is a number stamped on the engine stringers on both sides, on the top of the stringers, right in front of where the carburetor goes on the port and opposite that area on the starboard, like under the starter, (using a K powered boat to describe) plus several otehr spots on floor boards and other pieces. There was a number on one of the seat pieces too. The number starts with 19 and there will be three digits after, this boats number is 19514. Hope this helps you locate it.

    David: I spoke to the Mariners Museum yesterday and they have no drawings that would help us, and they were going to look further and see if he could locate any, thanks for the info.

  13. Marty Feletto
    Marty Feletto says:

    Call Tim Stapleton in California. He has one – he is in the ACBS directory. Nice guy too.

  14. Mike Green
    Mike Green says:

    This is diffidently one of my favorite Chris Crafts, I know that Todd F. Warner had two of them. I saw the one that he had for sale and it was modified a bit and the other his dad had I believe from new. The hull is based on the 19 Custom Runabout 1935-1938 it has the same bottom design but they changed the rear 1/3 of the boat above the waterline to accommodate the cool rear seat. I will have to see if I have any pictures of one of them. Tom I am thinking you need to figure out the center cockpit in building the engine box and seat configuration? I love the fact that these boats came with leather interior which you don’t see much in this period and also had the apple green water line just like the 1939 19′ barrel backs.

  15. Cliff
    Cliff says:

    There is one on lake Chautauqua I can’t remember the guys name but contact the president of the southern tier chapter. I remember that the family had the boat since the 1940’s. it was very original. The filler gas caps are correct and I remember that the deck vents were the same on a prewar 18′ sportsman just like the one that Matt or Texx rode on in the river trip two weeks ago in Fla. Well woodydiva’s was on and she brought them with her. I don’t think that the guy in N.Y. was a member of A.C.B.S. oh yeah I’m 95% sure that the flooring is black ribbed flooring. The motor box is tricky because I think it needed to slide back to clear the deck crown and then be removed. The paneling was thin and the exhaust side of the box was a whole lot hotter than the other side. That would be the ideal seat in the event of a fall foliage lake run or something. I saw it and judged it with Mick Griffin and the late Great Jo Kabbot. It was one of the first shows I judged at and it was great.

  16. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    Thanks for the info. THe hull card of the boat we have did say it had a green waterline. It also siad the boat had linoleum on the floors. It also stated it came with red leather, and we will be doing that again. I wonder what color linoleum it would have had? Black or maybe gray??

  17. Mike Green
    Mike Green says:

    It’s great that the hull card had some of that information. I would think that the flooring would have been gray maybe with some marbling to it or it even could have been green. If it was me I would put the crash pad in it, from the photos it looks like they came both was and may have been a change sometime in the later hull numbers. It would be a lot more comfortable to have a rubber crash pad behind you when your bouncing down the lake rather then the edge of the deck plank.

  18. Alex
    Alex says:

    I think the privacy the rear facing aft seat offers is great. I’m always a little creeped out when I look back in my boats and see everyone staring at me.

  19. Cliff
    Cliff says:

    Tom I have a 1941 29′ express that is a absolute mess but I have just started on doing a little research and my boat has linoleum in the cabin. It looks like this. However I have seen the marbleized stuff too. I think the boat in N.Y. Had only two of the original red leather cushions that were original they were a bloody burgundy red and shiny.

  20. Cliff
    Cliff says:

    Tom, did you notice the porcelain Chris Craft badge behind the front cockpit? Nice. High class.

  21. Mark Edmonson
    Mark Edmonson says:

    Hey Tom, I remember working for Peter Henkel in the late 70’s early 80’s and Tom Avers an ex-Chris Craft Employee restored one for his grandson who at that time was 16 or 17. I remember it not having crash pad, but can’t remember any hatches. A few years later Tom was fishing with grandson and fell out and drowned. I sure Robert Henkel or some from Algonac would know if the boat is still around. good luck, I think the boat looks better without hatches, Just saying

    • Iain Avers
      Iain Avers says:

      Hi Mark, this is Iain, Tom Avers’ grandson. The boat in question is a 1938 19 foot sportsman and it is still in the family. It is owned by my dad Bill and currently stored in my garage. My grandfather bought the boat on Harsen’s Island in 1982 and restored it at Henkel’s. It was completed in the summer of ’83 and we enjoyed it for many years. In the summer of 1988 my grandfather and my sister went fishing on a Saturday morning. My grandfather was sitting on the deck behind the front seat (driving). He fell off the boat due to the rough water and unfortunately drowned. It was a very sad day that I will never forget – a day in which the wood boating industry lost a true legend. The boat is still in very good condition, but hasn’t been used for several years. Our plan is to re-finish it and once again enjoy it for years to come. Just for the record. The center cockpit wasn’t really all that bad to ride in. Yes the edge of the deck dug into your sides and back, but leaning back is optional. We would often ride on top of the motorbox to ensure a more comfortable ride.

  22. MikeM
    MikeM says:

    I’d rather drive an early 70s Arabian any day over this thing. Here is a pic of me on one of my favorites. I could ride this thing all day. And vice versa.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      I highly doubt there are any early 70’s Arabians of that style still alive, let alone rideable! Those things were a lot harder to preserve or restore than a woody or even classic glass.

  23. Alex
    Alex says:

    Such a sweet boat. Tommy, re the crash pad, I can offer this. I’ve sat in one of these boats. The two jump seats next to the motor box are tight. The one I sat in had no crash pad. As a result, my back pressed against the profile side of the wood deck. It was beyond uncomfortable. (In fact, it’s why I didn’t buy the boat.) It’s possible C-C made a running change on account of this situation. Had the one I sat in had a crash pad back there, or had I thought of adding one, I probably would have bought it. Darnit!

    • WoodyGal
      WoodyGal says:

      Maybe a couple of throwable cushions or a pair of removable custom cushions would work to pad the back of the seat?

  24. Texx
    Texx says:

    Looks like the fellow in the header shot today sitting in the mid-ship “jump seat” beside the engine box is also feeling the pain…

  25. Brian Robinson
    Brian Robinson says:

    I thumbed through the hull cards for this series at the museum a few years ago. The boat ‘Nellie’ was unique in a few ways. It was a Smith family boat specified with the crash pad in the middle cockpit. I’m pretty sure it was the only one built that way. There was one other boat spec’d with removable hatches over the center on the hull card. I remember a story about that boat in a Brass Bell 20-or-so years ago. It is worth looking up on the series of these boats.

  26. MikeM
    MikeM says:

    Mike Green, yes, yes I can. Of course, I was younger when this was taken. My pecs had not yet become my abs.

  27. 72 Hornet
    72 Hornet says:

    Love that boat as it is so unique! I have access to a prewar Chris Craft surf board that was sold new to a family friend or ours. Anyone have information on them? Thought they were so cool and great to have for display!

  28. Texx
    Texx says:

    Thanks to everyone for tuning in and commenting on this subject today.

    From the comments so far, it appears that we have identified potentially 7, 8 or even more 1938/39 19′ Sportsmans around the country, which could provide Tommy Mertaugh and his crew with the information they need to accurately complete the restoration project in Hessel.

    We have reason to believe that there could be another 19′ Sportsman in the Lake Tahoe area, along with the one that Marty Feletto noted above. So we will look into that one as well.

    Also some good general discussion about this rare model of Chris-Craft, so we can all learn more about these together.

    The one question Minnesota correspondent Dane Anderson and I threw around today on line was – “So is this boat considered to be a Utility or a Runabout?” Or should the model name “Sportsman” answer that question for us…

    Thanks to Tommy for sharing this story with us today, and please keep us posted on the restoration project and how she looks at re-launch.

    And please keep the info coming in folks, we would love to learn more about these boats and locate more survivors.


  29. Brian Robinson
    Brian Robinson says:

    The other one in Northern Cal./Tahoe aside from Tim Stapleton’s is the ‘Braw Scott’ owned by Richard Mason, it was nicely restored last year and was at the South Tahoe show.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Thanks Brian. Over time it would be interesting to learn just how many of the original 70 are still out there.

  30. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    Thank you everyone!! We have detailed photos of “Nellie” that answers a thousand questions!! Thanks Lou at Antique Boat Center!! Interesting facts and details on these boats. We will not use the crash pad in the center cockpit, but discussing it with the owner, we will make a removable “drop in” cushion that we can use when a passenger wants to sit in those jump seats. We have found a decent darker red leather that looks nice, and in the essentials guide it said t hese boats came with either red or burgundy leather. Our hull card says red. Texx I like your idea of asking to list the survivors, as we all did on the model 99 when you featured “Rowdy Dow”. That was fun to watch taht unfold. We do have a little unique situation where the KLC carb and intake are to wide to fit into this motor box as built, but we have made a decision to build a tasteful box in the side of the port engine box side, afterall Chris Craft built that little angled box to cover the exhaust pipe in the rear cockpit at the transom. We feel this is a better option rather than making the entire cockpit smaller, as it is small from the get go. Thank you all for input it really helps!! (Atleast we do not have to feed this hay!!)

    • Wayne Spaulding
      Wayne Spaulding says:

      Tom, I just refinished hull #1. It belongs to Ed Zniemer on Grand Lake Co. Its in my possesion until spring if you need anything. Boat is all original and came from upstate NY over twenty years ago

  31. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    I don’t see how the engine box cover would “flip” up from the pictures without interfering with front or rear edge of deck, must have a trim piece in there to make it short enough to clear the radius when hinging.

    Hope you can put a little crown in that windshield glass, that straight cut makes my skin crawl, don’t know why owner’s can’t see how a soft curve will add to the lines of a boat but that’s a horse of a different color.

  32. Lee Wangstad
    Lee Wangstad says:

    There’s one up here on Gull Lake in northern Minnesota with the removable hatch cover/covers. Not sure if they are factory or not, but they sure look nice when in place. I’ve got a photo someplace, but am not sure just where. The name on the transom is “Katherine”. Dane, do you have a photo of this one? I know that it was at Whitefish one year.

  33. Texx
    Texx says:

    I thought we would get some feedback in regards to the question –

    “So is this boat considered to be a Utility or a Runabout?”

    But so far – Crickets……

  34. Tom Mertaugh
    Tom Mertaugh says:

    Regarding the question of the runabout or sportsman, it seems as if it should be classified as a utility, but then look at the 19489-1952 17′ Special RUNABOUT. That boat had that deck behind the front seat, and the boat we are talking about has 2 decks mid ship?? Probably could argue this till the cows come home!!



  36. paul rothlauf
    paul rothlauf says:

    Hello, I am Paul Rothlauf’s son. My father did sell his boat to Mr. Jackson, he also sold him a red white and blue racer called “Blitzen”. I have photos of both boats during construction and am eager to speak with the new owners. When my dad sold the boats he lived in Bellevale NY (Warwick).

    I actually just bought a puppy from Wildrose Kennels in Mississippi and named her after my fathers boat, Nellie.
    If anyone knows the new owners of the boats i talked about please forward them my email address:

  37. Ron Chaverin
    Ron Chaverin says:

    Although this thread has been dormant for a few months, I think I may be able to contribute in a small way to the knowledge base of this Chris-Craft model if anyone is still listening. “Cliff” above mentioned a guy on Lake Chautauqua, NY that had an original 1938 19′ Sportsman. That was my Father, Carl Chaverin. I own the boat now, hull #19541, and it is still at Lake Chautauqua. More importantly, my Dad did extensive research on Sportsman, and published a comprehensive history of the series, and a list of all known surviving boats and their owners as of 1995. It was published in the Fall 1995 Edition of the Brass Bell. I have all this information, and the article in file format if Texx or Tom Mertaugh are interested in a copy. I have also included a photograph of my boat with one of the two factory optional center hatches removed to show how they were designed. There’s an interesting story behind those hatches, and some other optional equipment originally ordered on my boat. My Dad passed away in 2008, but was a member of the ACBS and the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club. I am also a member of both organizations. The boat has been in our family since 1978, and continues to provide great memories old and new. -Ron Chaverin

  38. Bill Hammond
    Bill Hammond says:


    It almost looks like the Aft Cockpit could have been first with covers. There appears to be a ledge around it. What ammImseeing there?

  39. Ron Chaverin
    Ron Chaverin says:

    Bill, The “ledge” around the perimiter of the aft cockpit is cushioned upholstery, presumably there for rider comfort. If you look closely at the hatches over the center cockpit, they have a 2-inch wide strip of chromed metal attached around the perimeter. The metal strip overhangs the edge of the wooden hatches and allow both hatches to rest flush with the deck. These hatches were ordered as a factory option, and we are unable to find a hull card that shows another 19′ Sportsman that was shipped with them. It’s difficult to see in this photo, but there are also factory ordered dual horns on the deck (a single horn was standard) and an optional searchlight mounted to the center windshield support. The original owner, Anthony Peitrafesa, had this boat “loaded up.”

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