At 89-years-old, Coerte Vorhees has enough stories to fill a novel or a series of novels on everything from his time on the swamps to the people he’s met along the way.
French generals pop up in his memories alongside Cajun doctors and celebrities, with the stories arriving at such a rate that at times, it can be hard to keep up. Over the last 30 years, Vorhees has taken these stories along with guests out into the Atchafalaya Basin, pointing out any plants or wildlife that his boat comes across.
The way Coerte tells it, the seeds of his tours were planted by misinformation nearly 30 years ago.
While running a bed and breakfast, he would hear his guests talking about birds that, to him, didn’t make sense. They’d joyfully recall seeing cranes in areas where cranes didn’t live, and finally one day, he’d had enough. So in a six-person boat, he offered his guests his own tour and set off one January morning in 1990 to try and do justice the place he’d grown up in.
That first trip was less than ideal.
A heavy fog rolled in while they were out, and visibility dropped– hardly ideal conditions for a group of people hoping to see the beauty of Louisiana for themselves. Foggy though, it was that would prove to be the first of countless tours Coerte would embark on, and a few years later, he was joined by his son Kim. The two of them continue to run tours out into the basin to this day, showing off everything that the swamp has to offer. It’s hard not to fall for the basin while talking with them, pointing out every detail, and speaking longingly that people need to start taking better care of it.
Coerte, however, hasn’t always been transfixed with the swamps. He admitted that as a kid, he preferred saltwater fish and would rather spend his time in the nearshore waters looking for redfish or trout. He was the product of a father who wanted him to be a doctor, but a stubborn streak sent him in a different direction. A quick stint as an Air Force pilot– they cut him when they found he hadn’t graduated college– forced him back to school. There, he studied geology and would spend the majority of his career working as an oil geologist.
While he doesn’t do much oil geology anymore, he’s still out there, taking people out, even after a health scare a few years ago. One day while taking a group of French visitors out, he realized that he was starting to feel funny and managed to tell them to get his phone and call his son.
After that, he went into a full cardiac arrest and was eventually airlifted out and into the basin. It wasn’t long before he was back out there; although, he no longer leads solo tours.
According to him, he’s going to keep taking people out there, refusing to give into complacency and refusing to slow down.
When asked about what he’s most proud of, he quickly answered his family. He and his wife Margery are great-great-grandparents now, and the family is so big, he has to see them in shifts. Married for the last 68 years, he told me that he’s so fortunate that he gets to go out to his favorite place with his best friend at home, waiting for him, and his second best friend driving the boat.