Best of the Bayou

Best of the Bayou

Mike and Jerry Casey have traveled the world, but they feel most at home on Louisiana’s bayou.

Walking through Mike and Jerry Casey’s home in Covington, Louisiana, is akin to a museum tour—except the “no touching, no photos” rule definitely doesn’t apply here. And voices certainly aren’t kept to a whisper. Jerry has no reservations about letting me examine her stunning silk artwork from China so closely that my nose practically touches the glass case.

Nor does Mike hesitate to hand me a bulbous earthen pot from Papua New Guinea so I can feel its contours as he explains the meaning behind its design. The jet-setting couple light up as they lead me from one room to the next, animatedly sharing objects and stories from their many years living overseas.

Mike, who works for Chevron Corporation, was transferred several places internationally over the past decade. At the time of their first relocation, the Caseys’ children were adults, so the couple embraced the opportunity to be expats for a while and soaked up the culture everywhere they went. “Mike bought this grandfather clock as an anniversary gift,” Jerry says with a smile as she leads me into the foyer. “It’s from a castle in Scotland that we visited during our time there.”

The “tour” of the house is fantastic, but I’m hung up on a question the entire time: If you’ve lived in all of these extraordinary places, why did you choose to return to the Louisiana bayou? Just as I’m about to ask, Jerry slides open the back door to their deck.

Oh. I see.

The backyard is impossibly green and gorgeous. Thick, verdant trees hang over the deep bayou that runs along their property. An expansive wooden deck starts at the door, extends out and over the downward sloping shoreline, and wraps around the back of the house. Mike has just finished installing a beautiful stone-slab outdoor bar with a special tap for Bud Light.

To the left is a sizable practice putting green; to the right sits a brand-new boathouse. The spacious boathouse features two guest rooms, each with its own bathroom. Jerry takes me up to one of the rooms, which is nautically decorated and ready for the arrival of guests—most often the Caseys’ two children and four grandchildren.

Everything I’ve seen so far is beautiful, but when Jerry leads me out onto the balcony of the boathouse, I glimpse perhaps the most stunning sight yet: the Caseys’ Sea Ray 450 Sundancer, bobbing lazily underneath the warm Southern sun. Greg Worley, the salesman from Nunmaker Yachts who sold the Caseys their boat, idles around the bend of the bayou on a smaller Sea Ray. Greg is joining us on the water today, and despite living in the area for years, he’s as eager as I am to explore the bayou’s twists and turns.

Mike and Jerry met in ninth grade in Destin, Texas. They married a year out of high school and have been together the 37 years since. The couple started boating while in Texas, but had to trailer their boat about 100 miles every time they wanted to take a cruise. When Mike took a job with Chevron in Louisiana, they moved into another landlocked home but knew a house on the water was in short order.

One afternoon, the Caseys took their boat for a cruise on the Tchefuncte River and, on a whim, turned down a bayou. They fell in love with what they saw: a narrow, winding rivulet flanked by oak, magnolia, pine and cypress trees. They followed the path of the water, admiring the shoreline homes and silently wishing they could claim one of them. Then, around a big turn, they saw the most beautiful house—for sale.

The house became their one true home in the years that followed. Despite Mike’s transfers to Bakersfield, California, and their stints overseas, they always came back. On their most recent return, they considered building a new house in the area. Jerry’s love for the location and attachment to the memories here, however, put the kibosh on those plans. “At one point Jerry said, ‘Sure! You can build a new house… And you can come back and visit me here any time you want!’” Mike says with a chuckle.

Today, we climb onboard the spacious 450 Sundancer, the Caseys’ second Sea Ray after their previous 300 Sundancer. We take off down the bayou, with Jerry at the bow keeping a lookout for floating logs and overreaching branches. I can’t help but tense up a bit at the sight of a tight crook ahead. Mike, however, isn’t fazed one bit. He uses the 450’s Zeus joystick propulsion system to effortlessly maneuver the yacht around the sharp turn.

“The absolute value of this boat’s performance is how well it turns,” Mike says. “When we bought this boat, everyone would ask us, ‘You’re going to go through the bayou in that?’ But the Zeus pod system makes it such a breeze. Our neighbors can’t believe it.”

I leave the cockpit to join Jerry and Gary on the bow and take in the fresh April air. In mid-spring, the New Orleans area is glorious—the perfect degree of warmth, and blessedly humidity-free. We cruise at a leisurely pace; the only sounds are chirping birds and lapping water. Jerry owns a smaller sport boat and makes it her morning routine to have a cup of coffee while cruising the bayou. When the summer turns up thick-as-pea soup mugginess and scorching sunshine, she passes fat alligators basking on shoreline rocks or turtles bobbing in the shallows. In today’s relative coolness, though, the bayou is reserved for us.

Eventually, we reach the Tchefuncte River. Mike cranks up the throttle and soars across the open water—the speed demonstrating the other end of this vessel’s spectrum of performance. We cruise past Brady Island, where the couple often anchors for quiet overnights on the water. The thought of nights “camped” under the stars reminds Jerry of her other favorite part of the 450 Sundancer: the cabin.

She leads me downstairs to the spacious interior, and points out her favorite features. In the berth and salon, Jerry handpicked the fabrics for all the cushions, bedding and curtains, which also happen to match the fabrics in their boathouse. “Greg put me in touch with Mary Viera at Sea Ray,” Jerry says. “Mary sent me flooring samples, carpet samples, leather samples, fabric samples. We talked back and forth on the phone, and she was very pleasant to work with. We had a lot of fun.”

Realizing a customization process this extensive wasn’t the norm, Mike and Jerry were even more pleased when the star treatment continued upon taking delivery of their vessel. The Caseys decided to pick up their 450 Sundancer in Merritt Island, Florida, and navigate it back to Louisiana themselves. Mike Jr. of Nunmaker Yachts flew to Florida ahead of the Caseys to provision the boat, and he was there to pick them up at the airport and take them directly to the marina.

An unforgettable adventure followed. The Caseys cruised south to Key West, and then journeyed up and along the Gulf Coast to Louisiana. They kept a ship’s log of their memorable experiences, and reading excerpts from it now brings a smile to Jerry’s face. “We wanted to take our time,” she says. “I’m telling you, it was so much fun. Everything seemed to work like clockwork.”

Cruising back in their own neck of the woods has made the customized Sea Ray feel even more like home. “Buying a cruising boat is like buying a home,” Jerry says. “The comfort of it, the way you feel onboard… Our four grandkids love it. They’ll come down here and eat ice cream and popcorn while watching ‘Finding Nemo.’ Then they’ll snuggle up on their bed and fall asleep. They think it’s their boat!”

After Jerry gives me a tour of the cabin, Mike turns the 450 back toward the bayou so we make it home before dark. Time passes at a slow and steady pace, and Mike points out landmarks along the way back. We pass a gorgeous plantation home in the historic Beau Chêne area; the beautiful grounds where a chase scene was filmed for the James Bond film “Live and Let Die”; and the house of a former New Orleans Saints football coach.

With every twist in the bayou and every inch the sun drops on the horizon, I feel myself relax more and more. There’s no need to hurry on a beautiful evening like this. Noticing my slightly Zen-like state, Mike grins. “We call this the two-beer bayou,” he says, “because it takes you two beers to get through it.”

Two figurative beers later, we turn the final bend—the very one that years ago revealed to the Caseys their future home. The house looks perhaps more beautiful today than it did decades ago, now subtly etched with fond memories and filled to the brim with wondrous keepsakes. Despite these vestiges from far-off locales, the Caseys have no plans of leaving their one true home—or their Sea Ray—again. “We love the atmosphere of Louisiana,” Jerry says with a deep sigh. “It’s just so laidback.”

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