Captain Barry Downing


Another “name among seafaring men” of the South African maritime fraternity weighed his anchor on the 25th July 2003. Following his school years Barry joined the S.A. Training Ship “General Botha” in 1953, which at the time was based at Gordon’s Bay. After graduation from the Training Ship Barry joined Safmarine and with his usual efficient manner, worked his way up the ranks until his promotion to Master in 1972.

His first command was the reefer vessel, S.A. Tzaneen, the vessel being aptly named after the S.A. avocado growing area The S.A. Tzaneen was at the time, trading internationally in the carriage of perishable products, a highly specialised trade. During this tour of duty the vessel called at a very obscure port in Turkey, if one could call it a port. Simply a small jetty jutting out into a bay. No pilotage information was available to Barry, which required him as “first trip” Master to enter the bay and approach the jetty “blind”. Unfortunately an unknown cross current caused the bow to sheer off and collide with the jetty. Captain Barry remained unflappable and calmly conned the vessel out of danger and berthed alongside without further difficulty, displaying his masterful seamanship capabilities.

Barry displayed remarkable enthusiasm and expertise in cargo work, particularly the handling of heavy lifts. A highlight and most interesting project that Barry handled as chief officer of the heavy lift specialist vessel, S.A. van der Stel, was the delivery of the main engines of the salvage tug, S.A. John Ross, which was being built in Durban at the time. The hull of the tug was double banked alongside Barry’s vessel and, by means of two heavy lift derricks used in tandem, Barry skilfully lifted each 110 ton main engine from the hold of his vessel and placed them directly onto their engine mountings in the engine space of the tug. An operation that demanded exceptional patience and skill in his profession.

Recognising his valuable skill and experience he was promoted to Cargo Superintendent in 1976 and Cargo Manager in 1992. During this period Barry became a well know and highly respected personality on the waterfront, both in South Africa and in America where he was seconded for periods. Late 1992 Barry transferred to S.A. Stevedores as Operations Manager until his retirement in 1996. Barry was also known for his SHORT pants safari suits, which he wore throughout the year regardless of the season or weather conditions. It is doubtful whether he owned any other attire.

During his time ashore Barry also served for many years on the committee of S.A.T.S. “General Botha” Old Boys’ Association. Always the optimist and the life of any nautical gathering, Barry will be remembered for his endless, fascinating story telling, a lifetime of experience in such a short space of time. Bon voyage Barry, on your trip to a harbour of safe refuge.