Interview with Luis Miguel Correia
8 February 2014 • We were lucky enough to do a New Year’s cruise on the elegant M/V FUNCHAL, with some very interesting people on board. Douglas Ward, the author of the Berlitz Cruise Guide and his charming wife joined for some days. Luís Miguel Correia, a Portuguese maritime historian and photographer, accompanied by his multitalented daughter Inês, was also on board. Mike couldn’t be happier to meet another professional ship enthusiast and talk about ships for hours…
We met with Luís for a small interview on the beautiful wooden sun deck of the 1961-built vintage cruise liner.
Can you start with a small presentation of yourself?
I was born in 1956. I am passionate about ships and everything related to the sea. I started sailing on ships in 1958. I do not remember that particular voyage but I do remember well the next one, in 1961, a trip on the Santa Maria. It was the first voyage after she was hijacked. I continued sailing on ships from then on. I decided to write a book when I was eight.
That’s very early. It’s amazing that you have that passion as from you were a child.
I always lived close to passenger ships either in Lisbon or Madeira where we stayed for the summer holidays. I used to sail on ships from time to time.
My passion really started in Madeira. I got fascinated by ships at a very early stage in my life. I first sailed on the Funchal in 1963. I still remember the ships that were docked when we arrived.
Were your parents passionate about ships?
My dad was an economist but he really liked ships. He always filled me in with news and information on ships. And he gave me my first shipping books.
When I was eight he gave me a copy of the book "Passenger Ships of the World" with photographs and text. I realized there was no book on Portuguese passenger ships, although there were no less than 26 Portuguese ships operating at that time. I thought I simply had to do this. First I started drawing ships. Later I started writing. My schoolbooks are full of drawings of ships. Sometimes I can recognize the ships I drew then. I started taking notes and continued following news in the maritime industry.
Many years later I went to the Portuguese Merchant Navy Academy but I did not like it at all. I sailed on a tanker and on a container ship, learning the skills of navigation. I realized that I would need to give up photography, research or writing. Our major companies were being liquidated so there was no possibility to become a master on a large passenger ship, which was my childhood dream.
So I decided to stay ashore and I worked for many years as a journalist specialized in shipping. For fifteen years I had my own magazine, "Revista de Marinha", which is one of the oldest in the industry. Now I still work for it but as a freelance contributor, which I really enjoy.
We are now on the M/V Funchal. Do you have a special affinity with this ship?
Yes I do because she is the last one of the old Portuguese fleet. I used to say that my favourite is the one I am on at a particular moment, and also at this moment it is M/V Funchal.
Do you have a favourite book that you wrote?
Usually it is the one I am working on. Now I am working on “Portuguese Passenger Ships”. I did a similar book in 1992, which was very successful.
The market is not as easy as it used to be. The book on passenger ships is for a wider interest. I want to do better than the book I made in 1992.
You have written several books. Tell us something about them.
I have done 21 books but I have photographs and chapters in more than 100 books from other authors. The first one was a book called "South Atlantic Seaway". Noel Bonsor asked me to write two chapters of the book. I really enjoyed doing that. So I went to a library for research. I forgot about the time, they forgot I was there and stayed the whole night.
In 1988 I had my first own book. A book I did not want to do because I was too busy at the time. Because apart for working for the magazine I became involved with shipping companies. I tried to create a ferry company in which I did not succeed. Well, one of the two companies did not too bad. I was able to choose names for a few ships. Nice things for a ship enthusiast like me. I was not keen on working for the Portuguese State.
Then I was contacted to do a jubilee book about the Portuguese Pilot Service, in 1988. I asked lots of money because I did not really want to do it. I did not expect them to pay that amount but they did. Finally I enjoyed it very much.
This is what I have been doing, writing books, doing research. I also have been taking photographs in most parts of the world. I have been sailing on tall ships, naval ships, container ships… all kinds of ships.
What are you the most passionate about with ships?
It is the total package. It is also in the blood of the Portuguese people. Not as much today as it used to be. We are a small strange part of Europe. Our enemy was Spain, so it created an imaginary wall. We were like an island. To expand we used ships. I sometimes feel on hopping on a ship and sailing away. I’m from a very old family of people who loved the sea. One of the navigators displayed in the tapestry on the discovery of Madeira in the main restaurant of the Funchal is one of my ancestors.
Do you think you will always live in Portugal?
I would like to stay in Portugal. I will need to publish more in other countries. Portugal is a pleasant place to live, we have some problems but not as different as other countries.
After a 10 minutes drive I can photograph 4 or 5 cruise ships. I do photograph ships many times. I have many friends in Lisbon so I can use tugs, pilot boats…I have been photographing from the bridge. The bridge is more difficult because you have to demand permission. I sometimes go with a car with an open roof and I ask the driver to drive as slowly as possible so I take continuous photos.
What are you dreaming about? What are your future plans?
Sometimes I dream I am a ship. Further I need to conclude my next book. I have several ongoing projects. I want to focus and finish one at the time.
You also talked about a national maritime archive.
I’m involved with different organisations in Lisbon. I work as a consultant for the maritime museum. They have a large photography library. Maybe my files will end up in a place like that. I have been doing this all my life. I always have had this in mind when I do a book or when I photograph. I want to share my passion with other people. I would like to create a knowledge centre on shipping in Lisbon. It is one of the major ports in the world and a magnificent city. That is my ultimate dream. Before that I still want to do at least another 20 books.
Actually I am starting a large project on steamships. I am working on a book of Portuguese shipping since the introduction of steam in 1820. The first steamship that crossed Biscay, built in Liverpool for export, was Portuguese. And then I will do a dictionary with all the main data. This would be for 2020, for the 200 years of modern Portuguese shipping. I will be busy for the next years.
Do you have an ultimate ship you would like to travel on, a dream ship?
I would like to be able to sail on the M/V Funchal in 20 years time. I have been sailing on all kinds of ships that I have enjoyed. This is a dream ship. This ship was ready for scrap and she was in a sorry state because the previous owner passed away and there were financial problems. Scrap merchants were looking at her with deep interest. Suddenly someone came with the right will and money to invest.
So it is like a dream come true?
Yes it is.