aerial view of Les Casquets
Les Casquets or (The) Casquets (// kas-KETS); is a group of rocks 13 km northwest of Alderney and are part of an underwater sandstone ridge. Other parts which emerge above the water are the islets of Burhou and Ortac. Little vegetation grows on them.
Origin of name
Theories as to the origin of the name include:
- derivation from the French 'cascade', which alludes to the tidal surges which flow around them;
- derivation from 'casque', referring to the helmet-like shape of the rocks;
- derivation from 'cas' (broken) and 'quet' (rock).
There have been numerous wrecks on the islets; fierce tides reaching 6–7 knots on springs and a lack of landmarks account for many wrecks in the area. The most famous include SS Stella, wrecked in 1899. The largest wreck was the 8000 tonne water tanker Constantia S lost in 1967.
It was believed for centuries that the loss of HMS Victory in 1744 was attributable to wrecking on the Casquets, the lightkeeper of Alderney even being court-martialled for failure to keep the light on at the time of the ship's loss. However, when the wreck of that ship was found in 2008, it was over 60 nautical miles (110 km) from the Casquets.
World War II
The island was the location of a daring raid by a British commando unit on 2 September 1942. The raid was led by Major Gus March-Phillipps and was one of the first raids by Anders Lassen. In the raid the entire garrison of seven was captured and returned to England as prisoners and the radio and lighthouse wrecked.
Swinburne's Les Casquets
A. C. Swinburne's poem Les Casquets is based on the Houguez family who actually lived on the island for 18 years. The Houguez were originally from Alderney, and the poem describes their life on Les Casquets. The daughter falls in love with a carpenter from Alderney, but moving to his island, finds life there too busy. She finds the "small bright streets of serene St Anne" and "the sight of the works of men" too much, and returns to Les Casquets.
Victor Hugo's L'Homme qui Rit
To be wrecked on the Casquets is to be cut into ribbons; to strike on the Ortac is to be crushed into powder... On a straight frontage, such of that of the Ortac, neither the wave nor the cannon ball can ricochet... if the wave carries the vessel on the rock she breaks on it, and is lost...
C.S.Forester's "Hornblower and the Hotspur"
In this tenth published but third chronologically of the series, the titular hero is sent to recconoitre the port of Brest in anticipation of war with France. The Casquets are mentioned as an area that should be negotiated carefully on the way there.