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July 13, 2013

A 'classroom' with a view

Educator continues to teach all summer -- from his boat

NEWBURYPORT — Some school teachers take the summer off to relax and reflect, but during July and August, Paul Aziz boards his boat, the Yankee Clipper, and heads upriver to provide instructional moments to tourists, schoolkids, and even those looking to escape and enjoy the sunset.

Aziz owns and operates the 40-foot long, 42-passenger vessel, which leaves several times a day from the Newburyport Harbor. It also embarks on evening cruises.

The role has a close connection to his “regular” job, which is teaching biology and environmental science at Merrimack School, a vocational collaborative in Topsfield.

But “knowing the material” doesn’t mean that holding two positions isn’t challenging.

“There have been times by the end of the summer that I am really tired,” said Aziz, 48, who both pilots the boat and provides commentary through a dashboard microphone. “But I enjoy taking people out, and talking about the river and some history. This river is really an incredible resource.”

Aziz is a native of West Boylston, and earned science and education degrees at University of Massachusetts and Antioch University.

He got his start in the sailing business when one of his schoolmates was looking for some help in running the Ninth Wave, a commercial sailing vessel also tied up at the local pier.

Aziz sold his stake in the Wave, and bought the Yankee Clipper about eight years ago.

The voluble educator continues in the consumer-transportation tradition that goes back centuries in this area. He took possession of the Yankee Clipper from veteran riverboat captain Bill Taplin, who ran a tourist business for almost 30 years.

Aziz often begins his hour-long tours by going upriver. He explains the value of the 25,000 acre Merrimack River watershed, and points out birds, critters and vegetation that inhabit the banks.

“People want to see seals and eagles, and sometimes we get lucky,” said Aziz with a grin. “But one of the questions I get most often is about invasive species of plants. People are concerned about the river, and I provide information that tells them about this area. I try to keep a balance between entertainment and education.”

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