BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — 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.”
Freeman Condon, a selectman in Salisbury and owner of Beach Plum Farms and Nursery in that community, recently took a cruise, “I really enjoyed the time on the river, and it served as a great break from the kind of work we do (at the nursery) every day,” he said.
“I grew up on the river, and our family had boats since I was about 5,” he added. “The river has changed a lot — not in a bad way — and I enjoyed getting out there and seeing what it is today.”
Much of the voyage of the Yankee Clipper goes upriver, and it winds its way through tributaries west of the 1-95 bridge.
The vessel sometimes takes extended two-and-a-half hour eco-tour journeys through streams and basins that run behind Plum Island. But such journeys are time-consuming, and have to be scheduled in concurrence with the tides because the vessel (two-and-a-half foot draw) will scrape bottom if the tide is out.
When Aziz takes aboard classes of youngsters, sometimes teachers bring out microscopes and textbooks to study what comes out of the venerable Merrimack.
“We take out tourists, and we have commitments to the Boat Camp (a summer activity for youngsters),” said Aziz, who crafts his verbal presentation to the age of the audience. “In addition to enjoying a ride, many visitors want to learn more.
“When teaching school, you get satisfaction by enabling a student to make a breakthrough and understand the material. Here, some adults don’t know what a valuable resource the Merrimack is, and there is satisfaction in talking about its history and its importance today.”