Read In a Glass-bottom Boat of Byways Around San Francisco Bay, free online book, by William E. Hutchinson, on

About one hundred miles south of San Francisco lies the beautiful Monterey Bay. Here hundreds of fishing boats of all styles and sizes tug at their anchors, awaiting the turn of the tide to sail out and cast their lines for baracuta, yellowtail, and salmon, which abound in these waters to gladden the heart of the sturdy fisherman. One may forego the pleasure of fishing if so inclined, and take a sail in the glass-bottom boat, viewing through its transparent bottom the wonders of the mighty deep.

There were fifteen in our party, ranged along each side of the boat. Curtains were let down from the outside, practically cutting off all outside light and making the bottom of the sea as light as day. Our boatman informed us, after we were well under way, that we were approaching the place called “The Garden of the Sea Gods,” one of the most beautiful submarine views on the coast. He did not exaggerate, as we were soon to know, for the scene was truly wonderful, and rightly named. All kinds of sea life began to pass before our eyes, like the fast changing figures of a kaleidoscope. Here the delicate sea moss lay like a green carpet, dotted here and there with a touch of purple, making fantastic figures; a place where the sea fairies might dance and hold their revels, as the peasant girls of Normandy dance on the village green.

Close beside this fairy playground great gray rocks rose like sentinels, as if to warn off trespassers. Clinging to their rugged sides were starfish of all sizes and colors, varying from white to red, with all the intervening shades. Sea urchins, those porcupines of the deep, with long, prickly spines, looking like a lady’s pincushion, were in profusion, and clung tenaciously to every rock. Now our boat glides over a canon whose rugged sides extend away down into the depths, and on either side the verdure grows tier on tier, like a veritable forest. We wonder what denizens of the deep are lurking under the shadows and amid the stately aisles, to dart out on the unsuspecting victim.

On we glide over the beautiful sea anemone, half animal, half vegetable, with its colors as variegated as a rose garden. Seaweed and kelp wave to us as we pass, long-stemmed sea grasses moving by the action of the waves, like a feather boa worn by some sea nymph, twist and turn like a thing alive; tall, feathery plumes, as white as snow, or as green as emerald, toss to and fro, and make obeisance to old Neptune. Sea onions, with stems thirty feet long, and bulbous air-filled sacks, reach out their long snaky arms, like an octopus, and woe to the swimmer who becomes entangled in their slimy folds.

We pass over a school of rock cod large, lazy fellows who take life easy, while small, slim tommy-cod dart in and out among the rocks or hide under the mosses. Steel heads, as spotted as an adder, glide close to the glass as if to investigate, then dart away pursued by some larger fish, who look upon them as their lawful prey.

Over by that rock a hermit crab has taken possession of a sea snail’s shell, and set up housekeeping; with body partly hidden he waves his long bony tentacles, while his beady eyes stare at us from the doorway of his home.

Now a sea grotto passes beneath us, marvelously beautiful with its frostlike tracery. Its arched openings are hung with a tapestry of pink sea moss, which swings back and forth to the action of the waves, as if moved by some invisible hand. We get a glimpse, in passing, of the interior view with its white, pebbly floor, in which the basket starfish have possession a fitting reception room for sea nymph or mermaid. Pillars of stone incrusted with barnacles and periwinkles rise all around, while long tendrils of sea ferns wave like banners around their base.

Our boatman tells us that we are about to pass from “The Garden of the Sea Gods” into “Hell’s Half-Acre.” What a change in a moment’s time! A desert of rock tumbled in a heterogeneous mass, all shapes and sizes, as if thrown by some giant hand into grotesque and fantastic shapes. No wonder they gave it such a gruesome name.

In such a place one would expect to see the bleaching bones of sailors, lost at sea, or the broken and dismantled hulk of a galleon, half buried in the sand. A shadow crosses our vision, and slowly there comes to our sight a shark, that scavenger of the deep, a fitting spot for such as he to come upon the stage. Slowly he passes, turning partly on his side, showing the cruel mouth with rows of serrated teeth. His eyes look at us as if in anger at being cheated of his prey, then on he glides like a specter, and with a flirt of his tail as he waves us adieu, he passes out of sight. We breathe a sigh of thanksgiving that the boat is between us and this hideous, cruel monster, and another sigh of regret as our boat touches the wharf, to think that the trip is so soon ended. Truly, “those who go down into the sea in ships” have wonders revealed to them such as were never dreamed of in the mind of man.