Epilogue - La Route de l'Amitie.
It seems strange to be writing this blog, which has in the main been Wendy's work rather than mine, but this is to be the final entry, for reasons which will become clear.
You'll all remember the last entry from three weeks ago, with the exuberance of looking forward to the great sailing event, La Route de l'Amitie.
We arrived in my favourite Breton port, Audierne, with some sadness, knowing that Jean-Louis, whom I loved like the brother I never had, had died a week earlier. He was one of the most generous men I have ever met, and his parting leaves the world a sadder place. We entered port in more sombre mood than normal, with the big Welsh dragon flag that he had given us two years ago flying at half mast on our bow as a mark of respect for him. His boat was still there, with his dragon flying valiantly in the breeze at his masthead. It seemed like a last goodbye from someone I loved very dearly. Later, people would remark that they knew we must have been friends of his from our flag. I'm glad we did it.
We had a couple of weeks to get ready, and Wendy took advantage of the opportunity to go and see her daughter, Amy, in Guernsey. I had a frantic week of being taken out to dinner, invited on boats for aperos and much music-making and jollity. On her return I hired a car and picked her up from St Malo, as well as my very dear friend of thirty years, Ann, who had flown out to Brest to join us for the event.
Wendy was full of talk about a retired Deputy Chief Constable she had met on the ferry, how they had talked and talked for the whole journey. At one point Wendy asked him directly if he would be attracted to her if she were not in a relationship. She even arranged for him to come and visit us on the boat, and Ann and I were a little amused by the obvious chemistry between them, especially his blinkered tastes in food which were even more extreme than Wendy's. This immediately removed any vestige of interest that Ann might have had in him, as she, like me, is adventurous where food is concerned. Curiously, after his visit, Wendy became rather distant, and rejected affection, but in the confines of a small boat taking part in a big festival, with late nights of revelry and early morning starts, the opportunities for discussion are very limited, and there was always something getting in the way. So I let it rest, thinking that in two or three days when things were more tranquil we would have the chance to do some talking.
On the last day of the festival, Wendy told Ann that she was going back to the UK for a job interview to earn some money to fill our cruising coffers. She told Annie that she needed to take a lot of clothes back to London for work, and persuaded Marcel to accept bags of stuff onto his boat for Annie to take home with her. Late on Sunday, Wendy told me that she was going back to the UK the following morning, which was unexpected, as that was a week earlier than we had originally contemplated. I was rather put out by that short-notice change of plan, and was actually rather annoyed when it was presented as a fait accompli, not up for discussion or negotiation, as it left me short-handed for getting the boat to the Gironde for the winter and our subsequent plans for the Canal du Midi in the spring. Wendy refused to come to the last night of the festival, so Ann and I went alone - my presence was obligatoire in the words of the organisers. When Ann and I returned it was late, and the atmosphere with Wendy was icy.
The following morning Wendy was picked up by her friend Annie, leaving Ann and me to carry on for the next week. The atmosphere was still icy and Wendy didn't say a word to me, not even to say goodbye when she stepped ashore.
On our return to the boat I noticed that I could not find the big camera which Wendy had bought us for Christmas. "It'll turn up" I thought. A few hours later I noticed that the rucksack of photographic equipment (most of which Wendy has no idea how to use) had gone. It included all of the photos for the article I was writing for the yachting press about the festival we had just done. Given that Wendy hates carrying unnecessary weight owing to her whiplash injury a few years back, I was dumbfounded. After all, even on short trips ashore she usually preferred to carry her lightweight camera. Then I noticed more things missing: the cuddly mascots which have voyaged with us over the last two years; her teddy bear; little things like packs of hairgrips, and toothbrush heads. I went to our secret hiding place where we keep a stash of about three hundred euros for emergencies: there was only 50 euros in the safe. I looked around the boat more thoroughly. There was much more missing. Even her oilskins, fleeces and wetsuit had gone. This was stuff that she would have no conceivable need of for a temporary accountancy job in London. But how had she carried it all? It was far more than the modest luggage she had taken in the morning. It would have filled a large car boot, and it was only later that the truth emerged about the way she had ticked Annie into helping her move out. Annie was of course utterly horrified when she discovered how she had been used.
It was obvious now that Wendy was not going to the UK "for a month or so" but that she had actually jumped ship, and had taken a lot of our joint assets with her. I went online on our UK account and moved some money across to my own account as a precaution, as it was obvious that something was very wrong. It was just as well that I did, because shortly afterwards I got a secure message from the bank confirming that they had closed the account and that they were sending a cheque out in settlement according to *my* instructions. Later when I went ashore to get some cash from the French Euro account, the ATM refused my request, referring me to the card issuer. Alarm bells started ringing loudly. It later turned out that Wendy had withdrawn 500 euros, even though she knew that this was my only source of local currency now that she had closed the Santander account. In closing that account and taking the proceeds, she had even left me with the bill on my credit card for her trip to see Amy, and because she had taken the money and closed the account, the direct debit would fail, and I would be unable to make the payment on time.
Then, trying to contact the bank from the only UK mobile on board (their helpline cannot be called from an overseas number) I discovered that the UK SIM had been blocked to outgoing texts and calls and a message came back to "contact the service provider". This was something which had been planned very carefully.
Some time later I got a message from Wendy's dad, telling me that he was sad that Wendy had told him that she was ending our relationship. Although it was obviously no surprise to me by this time, I was still annoyed to receive the confirmation in this way. It would have been nice to have been the first, rather than the last to know. Days after the event, she said via Facebook that she was sorry it had to end that way. Of course, it was her choice to end it that way, not mine. I am not a monster: If she had been honest with me, we could have parted with trust and respect intact. Instead she chose deceit and betrayal, which destroyed in a matter of seconds the trust and respect which had been built up over six and a half years.
A few days later, I discovered that she had actually decided months ago to end the relationship but had "decided to stick it out until the end of the summer", as she had said to one of her friends. That at least explained something which had left me completely baffled all of this season: In previous years, Wendy had been an excellent First Mate aboard Freya Frey, and we had always worked together as a well-oiled team. This year, she had become careless, clumsy, and even uncooperative, and appeared to have become incapable of teamworking on board, and this had become a source of irritation to me. At times it seemed almost as though she was deliberately trying to irritate me, and I'm certainly aware that there were times when she succeeded. Knowing what I know now about her months of premeditation, it all now fits...
I remembered the Serenity Prayer: "Give me the strength and courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference"
There is no point in wishing things were otherwise. The old Irish joke came to mind (no offence intended to anyone!)
Mick: Hello Paddy! Can you be telling me the way to Dublin?
[Paddy scratches his head and then his chin.]
Paddy [triumphantly]: Ah, to be sure. If I was wanting to be going to Dublin, I wouldn't be starting from here!
The moral of the tale is that we are where we are, and it is pointless wishing we were elsewhere!
So, after all of that, what next?
Well firstly, although I was left in the lurch at a few hours' notice, I seem to have got things sorted. Perhaps it is the years of TA study that have borne fruit. I used the flush of anger and consequent adrenaline rush to get on with changing the things I could change, spending hours overnight updating my CV and making applications for jobs, rather than wasting energy over things I could not affect, like wondering about where Wendy was or what she was doing. It has paid off. Within two days I had confirmation of a job in Galicia, managing a language school. Two days later I had an offer of crew to get the boat across Biscay, and the day after that he was on the ferry to France. We depart as soon as we have the weather window.
Galicia is of course a place very dear to my heart, following the eight months I lived there last year. I have many treasured friends there, and could see myself settling there permanently. The sound of Galician pipes - sometimes merely the thought of the sound of them, as is the case now! - can bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. The prospect of living and working there is deeply attractive to me. I am at home there...
Secondly, and really astonishing, is my emotional response to all of this. Rather than being in bits as you (and I for that matter!) might have expected, I'm actually feeling very positive. I've noticed scores of little things, all of which are positive: being able to cook fish and curry on board; the absence of a trail of half-dried sticky saliva down the handle of the electric toothbrush every morning from Wendy's ablutions the night before; no more clumps of hair left to clog the shower outlet. individually these seem petty: taken together they provide an increasing feeling of relief and freedom.
I don't find myself longing for Wendy's face, her hair or her touch. On the other hand, I'm not consumed with anger. The photos of her on our digital photo frame no longer arouse feelings of affection, but neither do they arouse hatred. Just disappointment, and disgust that someone who was so emphatic in the way she presented herself as always being meticulously truthful no matter what the consequences, could have lied to me and to so many other people about something so important. I'm getting on with what has to be done, and doing it with plenty of laughter and fun, and enjoying the freedom of not having a veto placed on everything I suggest, from food to destinations. The curious thing is that I don't feel upset or heartbroken - just excited about the future. Perhaps it is something to do with the betrayal? Wendy convinced us all that she was a decent and honest person. The last week has revealed someone behind the mask who is cold and calculating, indifferent to the feelings and needs of one who had loved and supported her unconditionally through all of her years of trauma, injuries, hospitalisation and clinical depression. Maybe that is why I can so easily let her go. I know that I did my best for her, and that whatever my faults may be (and we all know I have my share of them!) I did not deserve to be treated this way.
So that is the end of this blog. It has been a wonderful experience, truly the experience of a lifetime, and something I will remember to my dying day. My life is now on a completely new and unexpected course which I'm embracing with enthusiasm. In the words of the old toast, "If it's half as good as the half we've known, here's Hail! to the rest of the road." I'd like to thank everyone who has followed it and given their feedback. It has enhanced my enjoyment of the trip to know that there are others out there who have been following it vicariously. Perhaps there will be a new blog in the future. Who knows?
Bless you all.