To talk about Manuel Nadal de Uhler is to talk about the sea and sailing.
His whole life has been linked to the sea, from his childhood in Mahón, in Menorca, a few years ago, when he used to go fishing with his grandfather or his father in a small llaüt, to his current role as commodore of the Club de Mar Mallorca. Manuel Nadal is the soul behind this infinite exhibition of love for sailing that is the Illes Balears Clàssics Regatta, whose primary objective is to achieve that perfect communion that is so difficult to achieve, fusing history, beauty and sport.
-Does your love of sailing come from family tradition?
-Well, in Mahón you always live facing the sea. I used to go fishing with my grandfather or my father in a small llaüt. Then I took up sailing. In Menorca, in those days and always, what prevailed was the Snipe and that’s how I started sailing with friends, so you could say that I started out of family tradition but also out of a love of the sport. My grandfather and uncles were officers in the Navy. My grandfather was an astronomer in the Navy, at the San Fernando Observatory in Cádiz. So I joined because I liked everything to do with the sea. In the Navy I developed my love of sailing because at the Naval School they did a lot of sailing back then.
-In what speciality did you work in the navy?
-In mine warfare, which was what we had here in Palma and what I liked the most. I served on several ships, such as the Tritón, Navia, Eume, the Intrépido in Cartagena, which was a destroyer, and I returned to Palma as commander of the minesweeper Ebro, as a lieutenant. Then I was promoted to lieutenant commander and was on the General Staff here in Palma. We did manoeuvres in France, Italy, Malta and Portugal, among other places.
-Did you have the opportunity to sail on the Navy training ship, Juan Sebastián Elcano?
-Of course. I spent a year as a student. I have great memories. I had a great time. My trip was in the Atlantic. We were in Sierra Leone, Martinique in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Miami, New York, Halifax, Canada, London, Le Havre, France. What the students liked the most was that there was a storm, because when the weather was bad there were no classes. There was only guard duty and rest. We liked very much to go up in the masts. It was very interesting. When you get used to it, it’s not as complicated as it seems.
-How did you make the transition from the navy to yachting?
-At first I was going to leave the Navy temporarily to run the Calanova school when we opened it in 1976. I stayed there until 1983, when I was appointed Director General of Youth and Sports of the balearic community with Gabriel Cañellas, in the first balearic government. I spent three years in charge of all sport in the Balearic Islands.
-Did you enjoy the political experience?
-I didn’t really like the political part. Technically, yes. It was a nice experience. I’ve always liked sport and there were many things to do. We were practically starting from scratch. We did a lot of things. But many times you have to make political decisions and not technical ones. I was not then, nor have I ever been a member of any political party. Even then, the political side clashed with the technical side.
– What path did you take after leaving politics?
-I dedicated myself to nautical sports as a professional. With my friend Chema Sans I set up a company to organise nautical activities, regattas, symposiums. As an amateur I took part in regattas, also as a judge. We organised the Copa del Rey, the Sofía, the Breitling, the first symposium of marinas in the Auditorium, the Sailing Tour of Spain, World and European championships… I was also part of the Spanish Challenge to the 1992 America’s Cup.
– And it was through these events that you came into contact with the Club de Mar?
-Yes, I worked with the Club de Mar for the organisation of some regattas and from there I was offered to join the Board of Directors here as a commodore 14 years ago.
-Did the Illes Balears Clàssics begin then?
-There used to be the Illes Balears Regatta at the Club de Mar. When I arrived we converted it into the classic regatta, the Illes Balears Clàssics. First we called it Clásicos Club de Mar and a couple of editions later we changed it to its current name: Illes Balears Clàssics.
-It was then that sailing was given a big boost at the Club de Mar.
-Well, my passion is for sailing in general. At the club, one of the first things the president, Borja de la Rosa, asked me to do was to set up the Sailing School. We bought Optimist, Laser, inflatables, we looked for instructors and we started it up. Two or three years later we introduced canoeing.
-Do people still live with their backs to the sea in Mallorca?
-In my opinion, no. It could have been like that when we started Calanova 40 years ago. But nowadays there is a lot of nautical activity. All the clubs already have the means, sailing schools and equipment, boats and instructors. The difficult thing is to take the next step because in the last few years competitive sailing has become very professionalised.
-In that respect, classic yacht racing is different…
-Classic boat racing is different, yes. The crews are not professionals, but amateurs. They are crews of families, friends… The atmosphere is very different. Then you have to appreciate that these regattas serve to conserve this type of boats that have become technically obsolete, but which have construction conditions and a beauty that must be prevented from being lost. Apart from that, we are very interested in ensuring that the regattas have a certain technical rigour, that they are not just a stroll around the Bay.
-How is this year’s regatta shaping up?
-The registrations are going well at the moment. We already have some new boats, which have never come before, such as the Portuguese Sea Lion, the English Mary or the Nerissa, which is Spanish. We also have boats that have won the regatta before, such as the Argentinian Cippino or the Uruguayan Fjord, which have already confirmed their attendance.
-A special Illes Balears Clàssics is planned for 2024, isn’t it?
-Yes, coinciding with the reopening of the club. We want the big classic boats to come, the J class, the Hispania class… We hope to get a big turnout for a special occasion. Back in the early 1970s, the inauguration of the Club de Mar was celebrated with a great regatta: the Mediterranean International Championship, which later became the embryo of what was to become the King’s Cup.
-Will the Ministry’s recent approval of the Historic Boat Regulations contribute anything to the preservation of classic boats?
-It can contribute if it is developed as it should be. There is the law, but the important thing will be the regulations that develop it: that there is aid for berthing, for maintenance costs…. The new regulation is a tool that could be very good, but we will have to see how it is applied.