All Good Things — Essex’s ERBA Comes to an End


After twenty-five years of taking thousands of lucky folks padding through the Essex River Basin, Ozzie and Sandy Osborn, owners of Essex River Basin Adventures (ERBA), have decided it’s time to close their doors. 

ERBA celebrated the very best of Essex.  A kayak paddling trip with ERBA left one feeling like they now knew why this stretch of Cape Ann is so uniquely special.  ERBA kayaking trips wound through our stunning marsh, and out into the basin to enjoy the plethora of natural wonders that exist there.  Local guides, all with the same sun-soaked heartiness, were at once reassuring, in that they could handle any watery mishap that might come up and inspiring in their vast local knowledge.  They guided you along the waterways, weaving in marvelous details about the wildlife, history, sea stories, and even the best place to grab lunch when it was all finished.  Mid-trip you would pull up on the 4.5-mile uninhabited stretch of Crane Beach, accessible only by boat, to dig up clams, learning the difference between a cohog, razor, and little neck.  Riding in the van to and from Conomo Point to launch and dock, brought back memories of summer camp or childhood field trips; Excitement for what was to come mixed with just the right amount of apprehension.  When you were finished, having experienced the rigor to see it through, one felt wildly happy. 

ERBA’s doors first opened in 1994.  The path to this began strangely with a car accident in 1975.  Ozzie was seriously injured requiring him to receive a blood transfusion.  He eventually recovered from his injuries, but the transfusion left him with Hepatitis C.  While working in the early 1990s as a paint contractor, he began getting sick regularly.  The medical researcher who was treating him said he simply had to change jobs to something less toxic.  At a regular Wednesday night meeting with friends, Ozzie shared that he needed to find something new to do.  Two friends had the idea to take over the old New England Small Craft site on Main Street which led the three to eventually launch ERBA.  In time the two partners left to pursue other ventures leaving Ozzie and Sandy to keep the shop going. 

ERBA distinguished itself by using guides to put people right on the water, eliminating the need for the lengthy lessons before a paddle.  Word of the shop spread and, with the help of a fantastic Boston Globe article, ERBA was putting somewhere between 3,000 to 4,500 people on the water each summer.  The business expanded to include kids camps, trips for schools, and outings for corporations.  Ozzie and Sandy pride themselves on having had 110 boats on the water in a single day.  

What they will miss most are, of course, the people.  Sandy noted how many of those who came to do a trip would end up taking up kayaking regularly.  They will miss the family of guides who have worked for them throughout the years, for whom they are enormously grateful.  Sandy explained, “Closing is bittersweet, but it was time.” 

ERBA was the perfect way to share with visiting friends or family the extraordinary place we call home.  While we will certainly miss the sheer awesomeness of ERBA, we also understand how incredibly lucky we were to have had it at all.  This summer, Ozzie and Sandy will still be out paddling regularly in Essex.  How beautiful to know that now and again they will pass a paddler who is on the water because of them. 

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