SA world-famous dolos designer dies in home city

Aubrey Kruger, the former East London harbour draughtsman who designed the ingenious dolos sea buffer system 50 years ago, died in the city last week.

WAVE--BREAKING: A younger Aubrey Kruger, of East London, with his ingenious interlocking concrete dolos design, which is used to dissipate waves at breakwaters throughout the world Picture: SUPPLIED
WAVE–BREAKING: A younger Aubrey Kruger, of East London, with his ingenious interlocking concrete dolos design, which is used to dissipate waves at breakwaters throughout the world Picture: SUPPLIED

Kruger, who had been a keen fisherman, diver and general “man of the sea”, died two days before his 82nd birthday last Tuesday.

While harbour engineer Eric Merrifield was initially credited for their invention, a claim emerged in the 1990s that it was Kruger who came up with the ingenious interlocking concrete design, which is now used to dissipate waves at breakwaters the world over.

Kruger’s son, Lance Kruger, said the family had been delighted when Kruger’s hand in the dolos design had been commemorated by the South African Mint in the company’s South African Inventions theme, just a couple of weeks before he passed away.

Speaking from his Vincent home, where his father lived with his wife, Daphne, until just before he died, Lance showed the Daily Dispatch two sterling silver coins – a R2 Crown and a 2½ cent tickey – imprinted with geometric dolos shapes, as well as three miniature silver dolosse.

“The family was emotional when they arrived from the Mint recently.

“We were all in the room when we gave him the coins and he got to touch them. He held them tight. We knew he was deteriorating and it was exciting to give this to him before he left us.”

Lance said his father used to tell the story of how he came up with the very first mock-up of the dolos after Merrifield instructed him to design a concrete structure that would protect the East London harbour breakwater from battering waves.

“He drove home to Cambridge on his Vespa and asked my mother for the broom. He sawed it into three pieces and made the shape of [what was to be] the dolos.

“He based it on the dubbeltjie thorn. Then he went back to work and put it on Mr Merrifield’s desk.”

His father had then made a small prototype of the structure, which Lance said was named by his grandfather, Joseph Kruger, who worked at the harbour’s dry-dock.

“He came into Merrifield and dad’s office and said: ‘Ek sien julle speel met dolosse.’ [I see you are playing with dolosse]. Dolosse were joint bones children used to play with. And that’s how they were named.”

Lance said his father went on to work at the Durban harbour as a draughtsman, then returned to East London, where he started a tyre retreading business, before working as a truss designer for a timber company.

A keen diver and spearfisherman, he was an early member of the Border Undersea Club.

“In 1998, he retired to Mgwalana where he spent his time fishing and doing woodwork.”

Following a stroke six years ago, Kruger and his wife moved into a flatlet on Lance’s property.

“As a family we are very proud of the legacy he left behind.”

Kruger is survived by his wife and children Gary, Sandra, Ross and Lance, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. There will be no memorial service as per his request. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

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