Albino Manuel DaCosta Ferreira

Yarns - Book Cover    (Albi, for short) - In his collection Yarns,[1] Tristan Jones retells the true story of an 18-year old Portuguese lad he had taken on board in Gibraltar.[2]  At the time, Jones was engaged in delivering a beautiful state-of-the-art yacht, the marconi ketch St. Louis, from the Biscay coast of France to Senegal West Africa.

    As the story unfolds, Albi turns out to be worse than useless
as an exta hand.  He was in Jones's slang, “clack-handed.” On his first job Albi put 50 gallons of fresh water into the diesel tank. And once at sea, his offenses multiplied—Albi was a lubber, or as Jones described him, the reverse of Midas. “Everything he touched turned to quivering crap.”

    But, then the story gets interesting. Due to circumstances (Jones’s original story is worth reading) it became necessary to shelter
for a few days in the fishing port of Safi (Morocco).  To keep Albi from causing yet greater harm, Jones assigned him a mindless task for the onshore mornings, then released him from duty at noon to wander about and do as he wished.

    Each day at noon Albi collected his lunch and cigarettes, then made off across the wharf into town.  And each
evening he returned with such a pleased look on his face that the crew came to believe something untoward must be happening—there could be no good or safe explanation for Albi’s apparent demeanor. Possibly he was trading his lunch and cigarettes for, well...

    Thus on their third day in Safi, Tristan decided
to follow as Albi made his way toward town.  In Jones’s words, I followed him at a discrete distance and saw him walk under the long tunneled archway that was the gate into the town under the old fortress.  I saw him stop and start to put his food and cigarettes into little bags hanging on strings dangling down the mildewed walls of the fortress.  I saw the strings pulled up by unseen hands and the bags disappear one by one as Albi filled them.” Afterward, Albi sat down, closed his eyes, and slept away the afternoon.

    Deep breath! 
Tragically we learn at the story’s end that Albi—the klutz with a heart of gold—was killed on his twentyfirst birthday in a “stupid” firefight in the Angolan jungle.[3]

    After drying away tears and finishing the rest of the book I recommended the story to my wife. —Now Becky has a good memory. On her reading the story of Albi she right away recalled another of Jones’s stories[4] in which, after returning from Angola Albi, then 22, joined Tristan 
for a couple of cool beers [at] a sidewalk table.”

    The news that a year after his untimely death in Angola Albi had enjoyed a beer with Tristan was something of an emotional blow. I had grieved over Albi’s demise! Among possible explanations of the discrepancy, we considered the following: 1) Tristan was confused about Albi’s age even though he remembered Albi’s exact birthday; 2) Albi fought in Angola twice, returning the first time but not the second; 3) There were two Albi’s, one who did good deeds and died at age 21, the other who enjoyed beer; 4) A year after his death Albi’s spirit joined Tristan for a beer; and 5) A yarn is a yarn!
Wayward Sailor - Cover
    As it turns out there was little truth to be found in Tristan Jones.  About a year after reading Yarns I came across a biography of Jones by Anthony Dalton called, Wayward Sailor.[5]  Even his name Tristan was made up! According to Jones, he was born at sea near the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha. In fact however, according to Dalton’s research, he was born in Lancashire England and was named Arthur.  His published stories, which he claimed to be true, were most often either colorful exaggerations of ordinary sailing experiences, or outright fabrications.
The Long Walk - Cover
    Indeed, the realization that the Albi story was most likely made up struck a double-whammy.  Not only had I needlessly grieved for Albi, but my ego suffered a blow as well, because I considered myself a skeptic—one whose credulity was not so easily commandeered. For example, another purportedly true story, 
Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk,[6] seemed incredible to me—literally.  I did not believe it.  Later, I came across published research proving the story untrue in almost all particulars.

    The art of skepticism is difficult to practice consistently. Autobiographical stories tend to be particularly subversive. Whenever I have read an autobiography or memoir, and retell a particularly impressive anecdote to my friend Chris, he replies, “yes, according to ---- (the author), he himself was a great man.”
Letters from the Earth - Cover
    Truth itself is a slippery subject. There is mathematical truth—the truth of consistency. Then there is scientific truth, the truth of the reproducible or observable. Undoubtedly, other kinds of truth exist, for example, the truth upon which the trust of friendship is based, or truth as in, “I solemnly swear to tell the truth...”

    Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between a Miracle and a Fact is exactly the difference between a mermaid and a seal.”[7] I confess to having borrowed this appealing analogy at times. For example, when asked to explain some computer anomaly, if certain particulars seem
in doubt, I may ask, “was it a fact or a miracle?” A look of puzzlement is the usual answer.

[1] Tristan Jones. Yarns (New York: Sheridan House, 1990).
[2] Rewards and Remembrances
[3] September 23, 1970. The Angolan “War of National Liberation” occurred during 1961-1974.
[4] A Hard Schooling
[5] Anthony Dalton. Wayward Sailor (McGraw Hill, 2003).
[6] Slavomir Rawicz. The Long Walk (The Lyons Press, 1988)
[7] Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth (Harper and Row, 1974).