For centuries men and women have been exploring, working, and even living underwater. These are some of their stories.
Panhandle Florida is a little lighter on the weird stuff than further south, but the Man in the Sea Museum is a delightful detour as you head west from Panama City. You’ll spot SEALAB 1 as you’re driving down the highway (but be aware you’ll need to be slowing down before you see it or it’ll be hard to make the turn!).
Restored in 2014, the SEALAB sub was the 1st undersea habitat established in 1964. A tropical storm forced the crew of four men to decompress earlier than expected, but it was still one for the record books: Humans lived more than 50 meters underwater for 11 days.
These programs were planned with the same sort of precision as the NASA space program. In fact, the two programs worked together during the 60’s (though the space program tended to get more of the sexy press)… It was always more of the low key program compared to space after all…
You might discover the door to the SEALAB is open (if it’s not, check in with the staff inside). Once in, you’ll quickly discover how… cozy… the arrangements were. The beds are shorter than even a twin-sized bed… Some very basic bathroom and make this a livable place… but yikes… no hot water or cooking facilities…
After the Navy decommissioned the vessel, it was brought to the museum parking lot in 1982 (the same year the museum opened) and sat here for awhile as the funds got raised. Why Panama Beach? This is where it was tested before it was deployed.
Originally founded to tell the history of diving, today’s museum is in the process of being moved around. As a result, I’m focusing on the exhibits rather than the order in which you’ll see them.
A look inside the museum at the four divers that pioneered life underwater: LCDR Robert Thompson, MC, Gunners Mate First Class Lester Anderson, Chief Quartermaster Robert A. Barth, and Chief Hospital Corpsman Sanders Manning.
A reminder that not every moment in life has to be a serious one…
A full body suit able to withstand the pressures of the deep.
So on, sing! We all live on a yellow submarine… A few steps lead up to the entrance, and you’re allowed to get in… if you can! It’s a tight fit for adults, but your kids will probably love it!
A surprisingly nice collection of diving helmets, including decades of development.
Other parts of the museum show the centuries of development that have gone into making underwater safe (or safer) for exploration. There’s not recent history with the program, since the Navy has classified some of the stuff used in SEALAB 3 and has otherwise made their programs more clandestine.
As a whole, it’s a worthy collection of diving history, with a strong focus on the SEALAB projects. There’s a fair bit of interactive stuff, and there’s more coming soon.
Details and directions
Man in the Sea Museum is located at 17314 Panama City Beach Parkway, Panama City Beach, Florida. Open Tuesday thru Saturday 10am to 4pm, closed Sunday and Monday. $5 admission. More info at http://maninthesea.org.