Maîtresse Île (GJFF-011)
9 miles south of Jersey forming part of the Bailiwick of Jersey, UK
They are administratively part of the Parish of Grouville in France. The islands have no permanent inhabitants, though fishermen, yachtmen and even sometimes canoeists make landfall there during ther summer months. The French originally fished in the waters, but Jersey exercised various administrative rights. The International Court of Justice considered the historical evidence, and in its Judgment of 17 November 1953 awarded the islands to Jersey.
These islands have been a source of a certain level of tension between Great Britain and France for a great many years. This judgement has, however, not prevented the occasional gesture. These incidents are normally of short duration and have been settled peaceably. They made the news headlines again in 1998 when there was a French ‘invasion’, which lasted one day and on behalf of the ‘King of Patagonia’. They were contesting the issue as Britain had just declared war on the Falkland Islands. The Union Jack Flag was restored the next day, despite Jersey not being a jurisdictional part of the United Kingdom.
Les Minquiers have been designated a Ramsar site. The islands have an extensive shoal area lying 34 kilometres due south from Saint Helier on Jersey. There are five islands in the Les Minquiers group, Maîtresse Île, Les Maisons, Le Niêsant, Les Faucheurs and La Haute Grune, Maitresse being the largest and the subject of this trip.
It is a certainty that I have never ever set foot in both the northernmost and southernmost buildings in the British Isles. It happens that one is a lighthouse and the other a public toilet. They are, by our calculations, 1324 kilometres apart and you guessed it, the Toilet is sited on the rocky outcrop on Maitresse Island, part of Les Minquiers Islands (see photo & sign inserts below). This one i have visited and for sure you are now asking…’did i indeed use it?’. What i can say in response is that its very draughty!.
Our operation took place between the 24th and 28th July 2009 and was to coincide with the IOTA Contest. Again I was joined on this trip by Nigel Wears MØNJW. The event was to use the call signs ‘GB8LMI’ and ‘MJØX, the latter being the Contest call for the IOTA test. It was decided that it would only be a casual affair and with no serious attempt in the Contest but nevertheless we did not want to come away embarrassed by a ridiculously low score. Although we both enjoyed Contests we did not take the antennas or equipment to mount a serious effort so went pretty much for the experience and also to give the island away to IOTA chasers. Les Minquiers Islands are not a rare group by any means but there were still adequate numbers wanting EU-099 and sufficient enough for us to make the trip.
The journey started at our homes in Wakefield and we travelled to Weymouth in Nigel’s Vauxhall Astra. Despite him being confident and dismissing my opinions, he claimed that all the gear would fit in the car and thus, the smaller the car, the smaller the cost. Having laden the card we left all the excess gear in Nigel’s garage. Every nook and cranny in the car was filled as you can see by the photograph inset here.
Arriving in Weymouth in the evening we managed to sample some of the more interestingly prepared foods they had to offer, the Weymouth Kebab House featuring in the tale, a story we would re-count several times whilst sat on the Island. We left in the early hours and travelled via Ferry across to Guernsey, then onto Jersey where we arrived at around 11am. We disembarked and then made our way to the Jersey RNLI and Pilots premises who we had previously arranged to take us across to the island when they had time and when the tides and swell were favourable. We loaded the gear from the car onto the Pilots vessel and then made the 30 minute trip out the Islands. We were joined
On the boat we were joined by Frank Lawrence a retired Coxswain of the RNLI Jersey Lifeboat. Franks knowledge of the Islands and hidden outcrops was second to none and he was obviously held in very high esteem by everyone we met on the journey. His name actually got us out of a bit of bother right at the end of the trip as we will mention later! Out of the half dozen stone built Fisherman’s huts on the island, Frank actually owned one and for the first time ever, he was to stay on the island with us for the duration of our stay.
First views on the Island were amazing, just a mound of large rocks surrounded by masses of rocky outcrops which were visible or just beneath the Sea as the waves crashed over. Indeed a very treacherous part of the Sea and many of the outcrops were not visible, not marked on the map and only known about by people with local knowledge. Some of them had markers on such as a buoy, a wooden cross or just wooden poles. We later found out that not only did these mark the dangers but they were actually used as a route into the islands. By aligning these crosses and poles at certain angles and from certain directions, one could plot the safest way into the main Island but again, only with excellent local knowledge.
Arriving at the main Island Maitresse, the tide was already too low for the Pilot boat to moor at the Jetty so we transferred all equipment onto a small rib where we could access the island without grounding the main boat on the huge rocks beneath us. It was a fair old climb up the jetty, far steeper than anticipated and hauling the two generators, eight petrol cans (all full) and the other gear was done in stages. Frank of course offered but he was an elderly guy and although full of enthusiasm and offers of help, we declined and did it a bit at a time. Frank had also been joined on the Island by a friend of his James. He again was a great help to us and it proved James was to stay on the Island too as a guest of Frank.
We were on the Island around 1300utc and gagging for a brew. With no mains power or water on the Island we had of course had to carry it all onto the Island from Jersey. Frank already had a stash of fresh water there and pretty soon we were met by the guys with a pot of tea. The sun was scorching hot, very few clouds to offer shade but nevertheless and welcome break to sit and chat and to find out how we and they expected us to perform whilst there. It was apparent from landing on the Island that there were still some Sea Birds raising young and of course we wanted to be sensitive to this sort of thing and avoiding them distress would be something we would have done anyway. With hardly any vegetation on the Island there were no ground nesting birds and just the ones with nests above ground in the old derelict cottages.
Getting Nigel on the air was a priority so we hastily erected the Comet H422 rotary dipole initially and mounted it on a tripod with an extended vertical pole which gave us about 18 to 20 feet. Nigel set about the interior of our ‘home’ and commenced wiring up the Yaesu FT1000MP MK V Field, the Acom 1000 Amplifier and the Palstar 1500CV Antenna Tuner. We were staying in one of the old fisherman’s huts, ours for the week was the one owned by the Jersey States Office. It was dry inside and comprised of one downstairs room and one upper, access gained via a very steep ladder. The downstairs was filthy but it was dry which was the main thing and certainly better than a tent would be. There was a large table in the room, several appliances such as a small gas stove and several old chairs. There was also lots of food which had been left by other ‘guests’ and I guess left there should the weather one day turn foul and trips to the mainland on Jersey not possible. We had brought plenty of provisions mainly tinned stuff, rice and pasta which were easy to prepare. We did calculate these items when considering how much water we had to bring across from the mainland. The upstairs was wooden floor and had nothing in it apart from an Airbed. Again it was dry just dirty, not a problem and we grateful. Once the furniture was re-arranged, we gave the area a good clean and Nigel set to work whilst I continued preparing some antennas for later in the day when it grew dark.
Everything was fine, generators working great, antennas performing well and just the Carolina Windom 160M antenna to erect and then we were sorted for the day. This antenna initially worried us as we were not sure if it would be able to accommodate it on the Island due to its size. We managed to get it in ok but one leg had to be secured under some large rocks. We later found out that about 20 feet of this leg was actually under water when the tides were in full (Photo shown inset). It actually turned out that this antenna performed better than any other that we took. Whether it was the orientation of the antenna or due to its location both around an in the salt water that made it so good we weren’t sure but it certainly worked extremely well indeed. The first qso was logged at 1610utc with Chris MØDOL as GX4KPT/p and Nigel rounded up the evening with 400 q’s on 80m. So far everything had worked out ok, the weather was red hot and it looked like we were in for a good week.
After a very nice and peaceful sleep we got started to work in getting everything tidy and ship shape which we knew would leave us then to play radio pretty much exclusively. Operating this morning started at 0800, very late by my standards! 20M was the band of choice this time and Nigel had a pile up constantly until 1130am when we decided to change bands. Before the operation had taken place we had decided that to try and encourage more activity on the band, we would offer an Award for working us on different amounts of bands and slots. For this reason we were anxious to get on all bands as much as possible and now we tried 10M. We had very good ‘E’ into Europe and both 10 and 12M bands gave us around 100 q’s in a few hours. We worked some DX to the East on 15m and then dropped to 17M where we were working East Coast USA by the shed load. As the afternoon wore on we continued in this pattern of operating and tried most bands and all resulted in good propagation.
We lost quite a lot of natural light shortly after 1600utc each day. The property had shutters up at most windows so when the sun went to the west, then it was very dark inside the hut. We used the petrol filled Tiller Lamp which seemed to run forever providing us with enough light and even heat to take the chill off in the early hours. We were of course dressed in shorts and had no intention of changing – what and waste operating time, I don’t think! We had some good contacts into China, South Africa and also West Coast USA and the Caribbean and as darkness drew we were very pleased to hear South America coming through, the first contact being David CE2EYN down in La Serena, Chile (Inset Right). David was an ex- GW call sign who had moved many years ago. This proved to be a super contact that would turn out eventually turn into a very good friendship. Nigel finished the operating about Midnight and by the end of the first full days operating we had 1850 in our GB8LMI log, Japan long path being the last few entries on that day.
The next morning I was on air at my usual time of around 0430utc. 20M was open and we started for the day working lots of EU stations. I had a nice run into JA several hours later and then a longer spell working many Asian and Ocean stations. This way of operating was the norm for the rest of the trip and as well as the q rate increasing, so was the love for the Island. Both Frank and James kept calling in to see if we were ok and always had a pot of tea or food in each hand. I think they were pleased we were there and of course we were very happy to indulge.
Everything else was fantastic. It was peaceful, relaxing, very warm and the casual approach to operating worked out well. The rig very rarely ran silent and when one op. Had finished the second was ready to take over, it worked perfectly.
Contest evening soon arrived and then it was full on. We started with a massive pile up and to be honest, even being used to pile-ups it was very very daunting. Nigel kicked off the contest operation ‘’Mike Juliet Zero Xray, CQ contest’’. That was it now for the 24 hours. Again we chose not to have any set operating times. Once more we chose to run until we had had enough and then the second op. Would take over. It worked very well, no arguments, no bad tempers it just worked perfect. Again we had visits from the boys. I don’t think they could fathom the reality of why we didn’t want to sleep or eat at all for the period of the contest. James would walk in, he would look at us, never say a word and then just walk away shaking his head, you can imagine his next conversation with Frank can’t you! They appeared at some awful hours too. I don’t think we bothered them and i am sure the generator didn’t but they even brought warm meals from us which we could have done without but nevertheless we were grateful for.
The end of the IOTA Contest came just as fast as it had started. We worked 1966 q’s by the end of the 24 hour period and we were very pleased with that. Being gluttons for punishment and as soon as the Contest ended, we went qrv on the WARC bands again as GB8LMI and gave the Island to anyone needed a qso on those bands. By the time night fell on the Sunday night we were tools down, packed away and ready for collection the following morning by the Pilots from Jersey.
Our trip back wasn’t uneventful either. We were stopped by Customs & Excise and when they saw the Petrol Cans in the rear of the car they wanted them out. You can see from the earlier photo how the car was packed to see that it was to be a nightmare. Despite using the same Ferry across and on the return journey and with permission from the Company, they weren’t happy and suggested we could not carry fuel. As we were unloading the car the Officers were making polite conversation when they said ”and where have you been?” My reply was ”on Les Minquiers Islands with ex- Lifeboat Coxwain Frank Lawrence”. Their final words were ”Frank Lawrence you say? Thats good enough lads, pack your car and get on your way, sri for the inconvenience”. Amazing what name dropping can do isn’t it hi!
Our total contacts for the trip were 6951 which included several VHF contacts made on 2M by Nigel and his Yaesu FT817. All contacts with ‘GB8LMI’ were sent a Qsl Card automatically and contacts made during the Contest with ‘MJØX’ were verified and cards sent when cards were requested. This is still ongoing.
We would like to say thanks to the Jersey State Officals for allowing us use of the property, to the Pilots of the Jersey Harbour Board, to Frank and James for their fabulous company and hospitality and most of all to those who worked and supported us throughout the trip.
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You may also wish to see the accounts of all my trips around the UK Islands by selecting from the list below ;
73 de Charles