Explore the Panhandle Shipwreck TrailJuly 2021
By Lauren Tjaden, Visit Florida
Looking for something that’s really off the beaten path? The Florida Department of State’s Underwater Archaeology Team worked with coastal communities to develop the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, linking a dozen sunken ships off the coast of Pensacola, Destin, Panama City, and Port St. Joe.
Florida waters are among the best in the world for diving. When you add the intriguing, and sometimes mysterious, presence of ships resting on the seabed, it adds a whole new dimension to reef diving in Florida. Even better, the 12 ships — which were chosen for the trail by local dive operators for their popularity, history, and ecological diversity — create artificial reefs teeming with marine life at a variety of depths. Divers can explore smaller vessels like the tugboat Miss Louise off Destin, as well as large vessels such as Pete Tide II, an oil field supply ship. The trail also features two 1940s shipwrecks, the freighter San Pablo near Pensacola and the historic steamer Varma, made famous as a support ship for Admiral Richard Byrd’s 1928 Antarctic expedition and mysteriously sunk in 1942 off the coast of Port St. Joe.
Military buffs can get an up-close look at World War II minesweepers like Black Bart, the USS Accokeek, the USS Chippewa, and the USS Strength near Panama City. Those looking for something a little bigger can marvel at the USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier off Pensacola that creates the world’s largest artificial reef and is surrounded by the U.S. Navy dive tender YDT-14.
Participating dive operators can provide you with a passport containing details about each shipwreck, as well as a dive log to record each stop. And be sure to visit www.floridapanhandledivetrail.com to see underwater videos of each shipwreck, locations of local dive shops, and an up-to-date marine weather forecast to make the most of your adventure on the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail.