Jacob Cockle lived a life that was defined by the ocean. From a young age he felt a deep affinity with the water, and as a man he even built a career around it. However, this fascination also led Jacob to take risks. And it ultimately brought his life to a tragic conclusion.
Jacob was raised close to Penzance, a pretty seaside town in the southwesterly English county of Cornwall. He spent much of his childhood outdoors, either roaming through the countryside or spending time at the beach. But it was the ocean itself that held the strongest allure for him.
“Jacob loved the water,” his mother, Carolyn, told the BBC in 2018. “Once he was in you could never get him out.” And other involvements therefore took a back seat. It certainly seems as though the young boy cared more for the ocean than he did for his schooling.
Some days, Jacob and his friends were apparently prone to slipping away from class. Making their way towards the coast, the group would be intent on hitting the waves to go surfing instead of sitting quietly in front of a teacher. That said, as a result of his dyslexia, Jacob did often experience difficulties at school.
Jacob’s big sister, Grace, on the other hand, was a model student and indeed something of a high achiever in school. Yes, by all accounts, she was a hard worker who did well in exams and was good at sports. “[She] was great,” one of her former tutors, Paul Kellas, put it plainly to the BBC.
“[Grace] was really bright – but also really driven and determined,” one childhood friend, Dabriella Quayle, told the BBC. “If she wanted to achieve something, she did. She was the sort of girl your parents talked about, [saying things like] ‘Why can’t you be more like Grace?’”
Dabriella’s twin sister, Aprilla, agreed with this appraisal of Jacob’s elder sibling as well. “[Grace] was very headstrong, but she was also fun. She was older than her years – she had the sense of someone in their 30s or 40s,” the young woman frankly explained.
In spite of the academic differences between Jacob and Grace, the siblings had an extremely close relationship, however. And yet the pair were not the only children in the family. You see, Jacob also had another sister, named Laura, as well as a brother called Joe.
But Jacob and Grace, who was three years older, held a unique bond. When Jacob was very young, he and his sister actually thought up their own private language. They’d communicate with each other, and Grace would then talk for her brother. In fact, such was the extent of the siblings’ linguistic system that some people even believed Jacob had trouble with speech.
“[Certain other people] were genuinely worried that [Jacob] didn’t know how to talk,” the pair’s sister, Laura, recalled when being interviewed by the BBC. “But I said, ‘Of course he knows how to talk. It’s just [that] he doesn’t need to. Grace does it for him.’”
Meanwhile, Jacob and Grace’s bond remained strong even as the two grew older. And yet during the summer of 2001, everything changed – when the family were dealt a shattering blow. While working in France at a summer camp, Grace had, you see, started to suffer from headaches.
And those headaches were the sign of a far graver problem. It transpired that in August of that same year, Grace left France to return home to the United Kingdom. And after a month or so had passed, Jacob’s older sister received a piece of devastating news: she had a tumor in her brain.
Following her diagnosis, Grace traveled to the English coastal city of Plymouth for treatment. And there, at Derriford Hospital, she started to receive radiotherapy. However, while most of Grace’s family had accompanied her to the hospital, Jacob remained behind.
“Because he was younger, we did not tell Jacob a lot of what was happening,” his mother, Carolyn, told the BBC. “We thought through it all [that] she was going to survive.” Sadly, however, this wouldn’t be the outcome that fate had in store for the young woman.
That’s because six months later, Grace’s cancer was back. And this time, the only remaining option was surgery. She therefore traveled to Belgium to undergo a procedure aimed at treating her serious condition, but unfortunately the doctors’ efforts were not enough.
Yes, in spite of the surgery, Grace’s tumor again came back – and sadly, this time around it was incurable. So it was that on December 18, 2002, Jacob’s big sister lost her battle with cancer and passed away at the age of just 20. For the family, it must have been incredibly difficult.
Now before she died, Grace had requested that her remains be cremated and then held onto until another family member passed. She didn’t want to be scattered alone. And so the family kept her ashes at home until the day when they could be dispersed with the remains of a relative.
Jacob was only 17 when his older sister died. Naturally, he took it very hard, too, and indeed it altered the very manner in which he saw life. In particular, as his girlfriend, Rachel, insisted to the BBC, it motivated him to live his own existence as fully as he possibly could.
“He thought [that], as a young, beautiful woman [Grace] did not do anything in life to deserve that. There was no karma to it. It was just cruel,” Rachel said. “He felt like he needed to live his life for her as well as for himself. Maybe that’s why he lived his life twice as hard.”
Jacob certainly started to live life more on the edge. He began to perform dangerous stunts in the water – and indeed he attempted progressively riskier feats. He also developed an increased ability to remain underwater without air, which allowed him to dive beneath the waves for longer. And on top of this, the daredevil took to surfing over rocks or in the direction of cliffs.
However, undertaking these dangerous stunts was definitely not Jacob’s only passion. He often, after all, incorporated his other main hobby – photography – into his exploits in the water. Yes, normally when performing a stunt, he would be accompanied by his camera.
As a teenager, Jacob had drawn up something of a personal manifesto regarding his ambitions. “I am becoming a world-famous photographer and filmer,” he’d written on a board in his bedroom. “I will concentrate my mind on this desire for ten minutes daily for the purpose of determining just how I shall transform it into reality.”
And it seems that Jacob’s focus from such a young age paid off. By the time he had reached his 20s, he had picked up a number of awards for his photography, including prizes from National Geographic and the U.K.’s Sunday Times. He also contributed to different surfing publications, with his photos regularly making it onto the front covers.
In the first half of 2013, Jacob won a competition for an image that he’d captured of one of his friends surfing a stone’s throw away from an oil tanker. Taken near the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the photo had apparently been a perilous one to bring to fruition. The prize for this competition was, however, a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica that was worth around $36,000.
As Jacob’s girlfriend, Rachel, explained when talking to the BBC, “His career was photography, but that encompassed so much of what he found important in life. Everything he did was in symbiosis with the way he lived his life. It was all kind of one big experiment.”
By way of illustration, the prizes that Jacob received often went straight back into his craft, with cash going toward new equipment. He even passed on items that he had won that didn’t add to his photography – often to his friends. It seems that he wanted only to build his career as a photographer, and he constantly searched for new things to capture.
Jacob’s photography had, then, taken him all over the globe, yet he was nonetheless open to capturing images and videos in his homeland. And there was one phenomenon in particular that especially grabbed his attention. A number of times per year, in the waters of Hayle harbor, near Penzance, a whirlpool would materialize.
Victorian engineers had designed a process to prevent the harbor from filling with silt – a side effect of which was that whirlpools would form. The idea was that water would be held during high tide to then wash into the harbor at low tide, clearing away the sand through one of the tunnels beneath the quay.
However, on occasion the tide would return quicker than the water could travel through the passages. As a result, a whirlpool would appear. And it seems that the spiraling water captured Jacob’s imagination – and provoked a desire to record the unusual event.
There are a number of videos on YouTube showing the interactions that Jacob had with the whirlpool on some of the occasions when it appeared. The vids have millions of views, too – and they also plainly present the dangers of what he was doing. Footage even shows Jacob swimming around and through the whirlpool, disregarding all the warning notices in the harbor.
But one day in particular at this location proved fateful – and ultimately tragic. On May 28, 2013, the whirlpool again made an appearance in the waters of Hayle harbor, and so Jacob eagerly set out to capture some new footage. Meanwhile, one of the daredevil’s friends, David Raine, said that he would film his time in the water.
But when David arrived at Hayle harbor, he discovered that Jacob had already jumped into the sea. And, oddly, he saw that covering the daredevil’s face was a large rubber horse mask. Jacob believed, you see, that the mask would help to garner more attention for the resulting video.
Even though Jacob had already captured videos of the whirlpool himself, he wanted David to shoot some more action. So, standing from the harbor, David aimed the camera down at his friend as he spun around the spiraling current. “It looks a powerful one,” he shouted down to Jacob.
At one point, the whirlpool almost entirely engulfed Jacob – although he managed to escape. “That was pretty scary,” he was to shout up to David, with the camera rolling. Then he requested that his friend give him a GoPro camera on a pole so that he could get an underwater shot.
The next moment, with David watching, Jacob plunged beneath the surface of the water. And after some time then passing without Jacob returning to the surface, his friend began to worry. David therefore started calling out to his friend, but he couldn’t see him anywhere.
David then raced along the harbor in search of Jacob. And eventually he spotted the photographer – face down, floating in the water. David subsequently jumped into the sea to help his friend, but by this stage he already recognized the stark reality of the situation. Jacob was dead.
Well-wishers flooded Jacob’s family home after his death, and his funeral was an extremely busy affair. His body was clothed in his signature garments, his coffin was adorned with a wave design, and his friends paid tribute to him in a way they believed he would have appreciated: they went for a skinny-dip.
Soon after her son had died, Jacob’s mother, Carolyn, decided to leave Penzance. She moved instead into a house near the Cornish village of Sennen. And Carolyn decided to scatter the ashes of Jacob and his big sister at the nearby Gwynver beach. After a number of years, then, Grace had been joined by her brother.
In the year following Jacob’s passing, the authorities changed the outdated method for clearing silt from Hayle harbor. And so the whirlpool that had taken the daredevil’s life subsequently disappeared for good. Some of those closest to Jacob, however, suspect that the manner of his death by the whirlpool would have gratified him.
“I do not think he was scared of death,” his girlfriend, Rachel, told the BBC. “If he was going to go any way, it was going to be in some extreme blaze of glory like that. Like he was vortexed into the next realm.”