How is it – diving in Madeira? José Ferdinando Correia or Freddy, 55, is a barman by night and an underwater photographer by day. He calls aquatic photography his hobby but in fact, has done 850 dives with a camera and captured the majestic world below the sea level. This is his story.
Eight years ago my son-in-law who is a diving instructor asked me if I would like to try diving. I accepted this challenge: took a course and started developing a real passion. I still remember my first dive: how I was breathing, the pressure of water. You enter a new world and see the presence of life that you usually see in the aquarium or on your plate. It changes you.
I used to like fishing. But now I know more about the underwater life I can’t fish anymore. In the Garajau Natural Reserve, divers have given personal names to the Atlantic goliath groupers. They are like puppies – follow you around.
I still eat fish though.
I also do normal photography, so I decided to take a camera underwater. At first, it was a usual GoPro.
But the photographer’s greed has no limits. I started buying better cameras, waterproof boxes, lights.
My wife should not know how much I’ve already spent.
My friend, one of the best underwater photographers in Madeira in my opinion, once went diving in the Azores islands and had an accident with his camera. He didn’t lubricate the box well enough and the camera was damaged by water. He was upset but didn’t cancel his diving sessions because he had already paid. All he could take underwater was a usual GoPro camera.
During one of the dives, he saw a very rare creature – the ocean sunfish (one of the heaviest known bony fishes in the world). He filmed 7-8 minutes around her from all angles. And this footage was bought by National Geographic for 7 thousand dollars. With the money, he bought a new camera. We all hope for this kind of luck.
One of the divers in Porto Santo met an 8 m long whale shark near a sunken boat. He took beautiful images that went viral. Whale sharks are very rare, especially around Madeira. The animal is huge but it eats only plankton and is harmless for people. Although it is scary anyways.
People start following my posts with photos and videos, we make friends and they come to dive in Madeira.
One of the best diving spots on the island is right in Funchal – in front of Pestana Palms Hotel in Lido. Fishing is prohibited here. So all fish gathers in this safe place. You see a wall of fish as if you are diving in an aquarium. Once we were lying down on the sand with my friend peacefully observing the marine life 18 m under the ocean level. Suddenly all fish disappear! A greater amberjack fish came – a huge predator.
Sharks like caves near Doca do Cavacas beside Praia Formosa beach. They are usually small but numerous. They are called hound sharks (because they hang out in packs like dogs). Some people dive without any protection gear – to play with those cuties. But one swimmer whom I know was once practising at Praia Formosa beach and suddenly saw a hammerhead shark passing under him. If I were him I would have run on the water!
Several boats have sunk in Madeira waters. Those are favourite places for diving.
About 200 m towards the sea in front of Funchal there is a boat called Pronto. The shipwreck happened 65-70 years ago. The boat used to transport fresh water from Madeira to Porto Santo. It sank during the Second World War: after bombarding by a German submarine, people say.
The Bowbelle or Bom Rei boat used to work on the Thames river in England. Once in a dark foggy night, the visibility was very low and it accidentally hit another boat where many people were celebrating a birthday party. It was a huge tragedy because many people died – they could not reach the shore in the cold water of the Thames. The Bowbelle was repaired though but it had another accident when it hit a pole of a bridge.
After all fixes it came to Madeira and used to transport sand from the seashore in Madalena do Mar, unloading it in Funchal. One day it was carrying sand as always, but because of the past accidents, the boat’s shell didn’t sustain the load. It opened and the ship sank in a matter of minutes.
The Madeirense boat is 30 m below the sea level near Porto Santo. It used to carry loads between Madeira, Porto Santo and the continent. 18 years ago it reached the end of its lifecycle and the government decided to prepare it for sinking. They removed oils and other toxic substances and the boat hit the bottom. The currents near Porto Santo changed the boat’s position, so its parts are looking different directions now.
The corvet Afonso Cerqueira boat near Cabo Girão – I’ve dived 37 times there. The boat has tilted a lot because of a storm. Now because of COVID-19, there wasn’t much movement in that area, and my fellow divers say that the fauna has grown immensely!
Shipwrecks with a treasure like gold or precious stones capture people’s imagination. And there are some in the Atlantic. So my friend decided to entertain his friends on April’s Fool day. He bought a handful of chocolate coins – you know, those in golden foil, and hid it near a sunken boat covering it with sand. When a group of his friends-divers arrived, he was like “Whoa! What’s that?!” – pretended to find the treasure. The friends were thrilled! It was a good joke. Although when you find ancient treasure underwater it should be covered in algae.
My dream? Do you know the TV show “Mar, a última fronteira?” (“Sea, the ultimate frontier”). The guy who creates the show started exactly like me. He used to be an advocate but he abandoned his profession and followed his passion. He bought one camera, another one. Now he is the most famous sub-aquatic photographer in Portugal. He makes shows for the BBC, National Geographic, travels the world. He followed his dream. It can happen to me.
Photo & video credits: José Ferdinando Correia