Pat Raw - the story of a port engineer

Apr 23, 2005
Author: Terry Hutson

Few of us leave indelible marks on our surroundings but for some, such as our harbour engineers, it’s often a different story.

This is one of the thoughts that came to mind a few days before Christmas 2004 following the arrival of a terse announcement that Durban’s port engineer, Pat Raw, had agreed on a ‘mutual separation package’ and would no longer be with the port from the end of December.

On that morning it was easy to reflect how events in history, even those of a localized interest, tend to repeat themselves. Raw, it seemed, was destined to follow in the footsteps of his earliest predecessor in the post, harbour engineer John Milne, who in the 1850s tackled the harbour entrance and the infamous sandbar that prevented large ships from entering the port in safety. Milne’s story is largely of building breakwaters aimed at encouraging the tidal scouring of the channel, an effort he sadly did not complete having been suddenly relieved of his duties. (Milne’s story is told in Colin Bender’s excellent book ‘Who Saved Natal?’)

Other harbour engineers brought John Milne’s groundwork to fruition almost 50 years later and today the port of Durban has become the economic gateway to southern Africa.

One hundred and fifty years later another harbour engineer faced similar challenges - of making the channel wider and deeper so that bigger ships could enter port in safety. Like Milne, his hopes and dreams of seeing this project reach completion ended both prematurely and suddenly. Others will now oversee that project, and will no doubt make a grand job of it, for such is the groundwork prepared.

Pat Raw’s career spanned 38 years, including a considerable period during which he held responsibility for the infrastructure at Africa’s busiest and most important harbour. He began his engineering career straight from school in the construction offices of the SAR&H in Durban before undertaking a civil engineering degree at Natal University, where he graduated in 1967. But his passion, interest and ambitions lay with the sea and harbour work in particular, and he subsequently transferred to the engineering department of the Harbours Administration, serving under the harbour engineer Allan Edwards, a man who Raw describes as his mentor and inspiration.
“All through my career, when faced with a challenge I would think, ‘what would Allan have done?’ – he was my beacon and an excellent engineer to boot.”

Pat Raw, Durban Harbour Engineer 1989-2004. Picture courtesy NPA

In the course of time he also served under port engineers Arie Burggraaf and John Carrick before becoming Durban’s harbour engineer himself in 1989.

Leading up to his appointment as harbour engineer at Durban, he spent two years maintaining both Durban and Richards Bay ports prior to the establishment of an office at the latter. This was followed by a spell at East London as acting harbour engineer following the death of Eric Merrifield, the inventor of the dolos (which now safeguards breakwaters and other installations worldwide).

Raw also trained as a diver, “so that I didn’t have to rely on other’s inspections.” In 1980 he moved to Saldanha for four years as harbour engineer, before returning to Durban as assistant to harbour engineer Arie Burggraaf and with responsibility for planning. Shortly afterwards Burggraaf moved up and was succeeded by John Carrick who in 1989 in turn moved to head office with Raw being appointed as harbour engineer of the country’s principal port.

“After the rapid development of Piers 1 and 2 and Maydon Wharf things were much quieter so there was a focus on consolidation and maintenance. The highlight during that time was the conversion of the Ocean Terminal Building as headquarters for the port authority in Durban, at a cost of R6 million.”

More recently several other developments have taken place with Raw at the helm. These included the Millennium Tower on the Bluff, and major changes to Pier 1 for the handling of breakbulk cargo amid efforts to keep apace with the growth of containerisation, which led to the development of a new deepwater quay at the Point.

Of the latter he says: “I was given just one week to come up with a suitable package to cater for the moving of breakbulk cargo away from Pier 1 and the Durban Development 2005 Project was the result. I’m sad I won’t be there for its completion.”

During this period Bayhead Road was doubled to cater for increased traffic volumes and preparation for the widening and deepening of the entrance channel got underway.

“The existing channel was designed in the 19th century for the early steamers and the fact that it has survived so long is a credit to the port engineers of the time, who could not have foreseen the changes to come,” says Raw.

He pioneered work in this country on sand bypasses to control littoral drift across harbour entrances and the results will be seen at Coega and the new Durban entrance.

In his private life Pat Raw is a keen mountaineer who was involved for 25 years with mountain rescue, during which time he survived what he describes as ‘two very hard helicopter landings.’

Officially retired from the harbour authority and living in Durban, Raw hopes to remain involved in harbour work where he can lend his experience and he’s hoping that new challenges will still lie ahead.



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