When shooting the footage that formed the basis of the Invisible Bordeaux “View from Pont d’Aquitaine” video clip , I was reminded of a s...

The mysterious rig with no name on the river Garonne

When shooting the footage that formed the basis of the Invisible Bordeaux “View from Pont d’Aquitaine” video clip, I was reminded of a story which was recently covered by local newspaper Sud Ouest: the mystery of the disused iron rig on the Garonne.

The rig in question can be seen near to the left-bank Bacalan district of Bordeaux, more or less mid-way between the Chaban-Delmas lift bridge and Pont d’Aquitaine suspension bridge. When the subject was initially raised by Sud Ouest, journalist Jean-Paul Vigneaud asked more questions than he provided answers about what he called the “phantom of the Garonne”, a structure “where nobody goes and which nobody is interested in” and which now resembles a “mid-river heap of scrap iron” (un tas de ferraille au beau milieu de l’eau).

Theories were aired about the original purpose of the rig, such as its possible use in the 1970s to drill for oil near Cap Ferret before being brought up to the Garonne and abandoned. Speaking to the newspaper, a representative of the Bordeaux port authority, who had been familiar with the sight since he moved to the city in 1985, was adamant however that the rig had instead been used for underwater rock excavation.
The disused rig as viewed from Pont Chaban-Delmas lift bridge, with Pont d'Aquitaine in the background.
Fortunately, readers were on hand to fill in the blanks, including one person who remembered working on the rig as an 18-year-old in 1974. At the time the rig belonged to the Nantes-based company ETPO (Entreprise de Travaux Publics de l’Ouest) who did indeed use it to remove hazardous rocks from the riverbed along the shipping path, blowing them up using explosives.

The rig, which was a veritable “floating workshop”, would be towed between locations by tugs belonging to the port of Bordeaux. The legs of the rig would then be lowered into position and teams would have a secure platform from which they could work on clearing the path for boats. Assignments were carried out near the point where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet, further downstream between Lamarque and Blaye, and towards the mouth of the Gironde Estuary near Le Verdon.

I tried hard but was unable to find a spot on the left bank of the Garonne where the rig was clearly visible. This shot was taken from the right bank, from Quai de Brazza, close to the Crèmes Jock factory.
In the 1990s, the rig was acquired by one Mr Saint Jean, a local entrepreneur who ran gravel pits in the area. The plan he had dreamt up was for gravel barges to berth at the rig and for a dredge system to then transport the gravel to the Bacalan docklands quarter. Everything was in place for the system to operate as planned, except that the Préfecture did not consider the dredging system to meet the relevant norms and therefore refused to issue an authorization. Saint Jean had no choice other than to admit defeat.

Come 1995, Saint Jean sought to move the rig but its legs were already stuck in the riverbed. One option would have been to dismantle the platform alone but that would have meant escalating costs for the entrepreneur. The removal project was abandoned and the years have passed; Saint Jean’s company is no more and the rig is still exactly where it was.

Left: birds enjoying a rest on the rig. The diagonal yellow pylon is part of the system used to regulate and secure the height of the rig's legs. Right: a close-up of one of the two metallic workshops, and a Batcub riverbus navigates on the Garonne with the rig and Pont d'Aquitaine in the background.
As the rig does not lie on the shipping lane itself, it is not regarded as a hazard (the same can be said of the numerous shipwrecks dotted along the banks of the Garonne, even in central Bordeaux). It will therefore be going nowhere for now, particularly given that more than 30 years’ worth of mud and sludge now weigh down on the rig’s legs.

But surely if the rig really is here to stay, it deserves its own name. How about “la plate-forme ETPO” or “Saint Jean”? “La plate-forme Fantôme”? Or it could be “la plate-forme Vigneaud” as a tribute to the Sud Ouest journalist who compiled all the information which features here. How about the “Invisible Bordeaux Rig”? Suggestions welcome, and then the lobbying campaign can begin!


  1. Interesting stuff as always Tim

    1. Thanks! Was thinking of you and your writings the other day when I was on the Lapébie cycle path!