A fish-eye view of Sitka Sound

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SITKA, Alaska -- You don't have to be a neoprene wetsuit-clad scuba diver to enjoy a fish-eye view of the waters of Sitka Sound.

In August, a company called Sea Life Discovery Tours here began offering glass-bottom boat tours of this Southeast Alaska waterway to tourists, school children and locals.

The tours are operated aboard the 55-foot, 49-passenger Sea Life Discovery, the first semisubmersible, glass-hulled boat in Alaska.

The motorboat was built by Midship Marine in Louisiana for Sitkans Kenneth Rear and Deborah Younger-Rear, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains with a combined 25 years of experience operating sea vessels in the Sitka area. The Rears previously operated sport-fishing and sightseeing charters and also are certified divers.

"It may be the only such vessel operating anywhere along the Pacific Northwest coast. We don't know of any others," said Younger-Rear.

Kenneth Rear said the company is exploring additional routes for the tours and is in discussions with cruise lines to put together schedules for next season.

Sea Life Discovery offers 60- and 90-minute tours that will operate daily in the summer and occasionally in winter.

Tickets cost $50 for the one-hour tour and $75 for 90 minutes. On all trips, a trained naturalist provides commentary on the sealife and answers passengers' questions.

Passengers descend a staircase to a viewing area about 10 feet below the water's surface, where on a clear day visibility can be 100 feet.

For night trips or when visibility is less than ideal, the vessel can shine 16 high-power lights to enhance viewing.

Powered by twin John Deere turbo diesel engines, the vessel can reach a top speed of eight knots, although the tours operate at a much slower speed.

The vessel's windows are made of a one-inch safety glass laminated on both sides to prevent them from shattering. The lower hold is surrounded by buoyant pockets in the hull to prevent it from sinking.

The vessel features a covered deck that allows for above-water viewing of the area's plentiful sea birds and Sitka Sound's picturesque harbors and islands.

For information or reservations, call (907) 966-2301.

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