My visit to Florida wasn’t all fun in the sun. We also educated ourselves at the Museum of Man in the Sea, a name I cannot say without a deep, authoritative voice reminiscent of a 1950s documentary narrator. Quite close to the pool, the museum proved too tempting to resist. We made a bet about whether we’d be the only visitors, and I’m glad to report that we weren’t. However, the family with young children that I expected to see did not show up, nor did more than four other people, so none of us won.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the name, but it turns out that the museum is dedicated mainly to diving and submarines, important local industries in the Florida Panhandle, with its Naval Surface Warfare Center (not to mention the more recently opened Morrison Springs). They had interesting displays of the technology that has evolved to facilitate underwater work, including wreck recovery, which could have been undertaken by someone in an armored dive suit such as the 1913 model above. One of the items I found most curious was called a bathythermograph and could be used to record underwater temperature changes. Unfortunately, it is too heavy to tie to your suit during a swim at the beach.
Not until after visiting the interior displays did we appreciate the amazing collection of submarines and submersibles outside. The lot around the museum was practically littered with them, including personal transport pods, pressure chambers, the world’s first underwater living facility, and, yes, a yellow submarine. After seeing these, a lot of other things started to look like submarines–the heating/cooling tanks at the pool, electrical substation equipment, and detritus outside storage centers, for example.
There was very little about other seaborne activities like, um, swimming, but I still recommend a visit on your next trip to Panama City Beach. If you time your trip right, you could even enjoy an oyster and grits fundraiser to help save SEALAB-1.