Jack Morris is about to take his third annual dive into the frigid ocean water. Last year there was still snow on the ground when he took the plunge. After he jumped in the young teenager had to swim 15 feet over to reach the ladder to climb out. It was a bit of a chilly swim.
Jack is not raising money for a charity and he’s not trying to win a bet. This is actually a personal tribute to a piece of history that continues to fascinate him.
The Titanic sank exactly 109 years ago, on April 15, 1912. Only three years ago Jack decided he was going to jump into the ocean on the anniversary of the sinking.
“I kind of just wanted to know what they felt. I know their conditions were a lot different than mine. I mean when the Titanic went underwater it was exactly 2:25 a.m.,” says Jack. “It was easily minus 7 degrees out and you die in three minutes tops. You freeze to death. That was if you were lucky.”
The unlucky ones took a lot longer, and then there’s the case of the Titanic’s chef who drank himself into a stupor and swam around for hours until he was rescued, coming out of the water no worse for wear according to one book Jack has read.
“I don’t think it was the alcohol. I think it was just luck,” says Jack. “Everyone’s body reacts differently to the water. They say it hits like 1,000 knives and it does. It stings.”
Jack likens his annual Titanic tribute dip to how one’s leg or foot can tingle when circulation resumes after it has gone numb from pressure.
“It feels like a whole bunch of pins and needles,” says Jack. “It feels like that except it hurts a lot more.”
This year he’s going to jump in not far from his home in Grand Bay, and while there’s no snow on the ground and the sun is shining it’s still early Spring, hardly the time of year for a pleasant dip in the sea. Today the temperature is only a few degrees above freezing, and there’s an unpleasant, steady wind that constantly sets the teeth on edge.
Apparently that doesn’t bother Jack much either. Unlike his family and friends accompany him around the block to a friend’s private dock, Jack has no coat or sweater and is clad in only a light t-shirt, swim shorts and a pair of trusty sneakers.
“When I was in kindergarten we were doing an art project and I was reading through the newspaper that we used to cover our desks so we wouldn’t get paint everywhere, and there was a picture of the Titanic,” recalls Jack.
He asked his teacher about the story and once she explained it he was hooked. Even a short conversation with Jack proves he knows his Titanic history.
“I know all of the Titanic’s sister ships – the Britannic, the Olympic. I know what happened to them. I know where they’re at right now.”
His obsession with the Titanic has gone back and forth over the years as he’s grown, but he always goes back to it. He’s always loved it.
“I’ve done some stuff with the Caribou. I like any ships,” says Jack.
He wanted to visit the wreck of the Titanic but it costs somewhere north of a quarter million dollars to dive there, and because of the deterioration of the wreck this is the last year to go.
“There’s something on the bottom of the sea called rusticles, and rusticles eat away at iron and all types of metal,” he explains.
Maybe someday he’ll sail on the Titanic II, the replica ship that he says is currently being built in China. He thinks that one is nearing completion, and he’s not sure if it’s an exact replica but does know they’ve added more lifeboats.
“Titanic did have quite a few lifeboats and they probably would have been able to fit most of them but they only put on about 12 people at a time and the boats could fit about 70.”
In fact the lifeboats had been tested with the weight of 80 or more men during construction in Belfast. Putting less than half that number into a lifeboat and letting people drown makes no sense to Jack either, and he chalks it up to panic and error during the infamous disaster.
“They didn’t want the boats to buckle under the weight,” he shrugs, and like most historians, amateur or otherwise, believes the lifeboats could have easily saved many more.
Jack likes all history, although he seems especially drawn to boat history. His career aspirations tend towards police services though. Perhaps he can become a police sketch artist. He certainly has a talent for it.
In his bedroom, Jack has some sketches he drew when he was younger, and a flattering photo of Rose Dewitt-Bukater, the heroine portrayed by actress Kate Winslett in the Academy Award-winning film ‘Titanic’.
The progression of his artistic talents from youth to teen is evident. On one wall, nestled under a reproduction of a newspaper about the Titanic disaster and the portrait of Rose, Jack has hung a strikingly accurate self-portrait. In the sketch, part of a school project, Jack is wearing a mask over his mouth and nose, his rich brown hair curling slightly in an unseen breeze, his bright eyes both curious and cautious.
“I’ve gotten a lot better of the years,” he says matter-of-factly, “but I haven’t drawn many Titanic pictures recently.”
There’s also a foot-long LEGO® model of the Titanic. The first one he wanted was about 8 ft. long by 2 ft. wide and cost easily over $5,000 says his mother, Vanessa Elms. This model was a compromise, shipped over from Europe for about a tenth of the price.
Jack reaches the dock and strips off his t-shirt, then changes his mind and puts it back on. The water isn’t deep here, so he elects to keep his sneakers on too. His grandmother, Barbara Elms, has her smartphone all prepared to shoot video and further up on the dock, maintaining social distance, is a small crowd of onlookers. It’s go time.
He starts to climb down the ladder because the water is so shallow, changes his mind, and then takes a flying leap and curls into a cannonball before hitting the water. The onlookers hoot and laugh while Jack swims briskly back to shore to get wrapped up in a towel by his Mom. He grins from ear to ear and declares that the day suddenly feels like summer.
Next year his younger sister, Felicity, plans to join him. Today though, she has just one question.
“Is it cold?”