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City marina won't stand for topless mates

With business dragging last winter, Capt. Harold Coombes and his wife, Kathi, came up with the perfect bait to lure charter fishing clients to their 45-foot Trojan in Fort Pierce, Fla. — topless crew mates.

With business dragging last winter, Capt. Harold Coombes and his wife, Kathi, came up with the perfect bait to lure charter fishing clients to their 45-foot Trojan in Fort Pierce, Fla. — topless crew mates.

“Everyone needs a niche,” says Kathi Coombes. “Sex sells — that’s the way it is.”

Not at the Fort Pierce City Marina, says marina manager Dean Kubitschek. He evicted Smokin’ Em Fishing Charters after the husband-and-wife team’s brochures were found at the restaurant next to the marina. The brochures, with the title “Bikini Girls & Topless Girls Fishing Charters,” include a photo of a nude woman.

“This marina is family oriented, and I want to keep it that way,” says Kubitschek, who has been the manager for nearly 12 years. “I have nothing against bikinis, but they were offering nude mates. We have a lot of family activities here.” Kubitschek said the Coombes’ contract specifies that the city reserves the right to ask boat owners to leave if they harm the reputation of the marina.

Smokin’ Em Fishing Charters has moved to Harbour Town Marina, also in Fort Pierce, but the Coombes plan to fight the city to return to the marina. They’ve collected more than 100 signatures on a petition and vow to sue the city, says Harold Coombes.

“We’ve got a team of attorneys coming into town,” he says. “At the very least we can sue them under violation of First Amendment rights and maybe discrimination against women.”

City mayor Bob Benton isn’t worried. “The city stands by the marina manager,” says Benton. “He’s done an excellent job for many years.”

Benton says he understands the charter operation was trying to drum up business. “In my opinion, it’s a great tool to promote business,” he says. “Everything was fine until literature was found showing topless women.”

The Coombes began offering fishing trips with topless girls in January at the city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Pierce. The girls serve drinks and food and help with baiting the hooks, says Harold Coombes. A more experienced male mate — not in a bikini — is also on board to help with fishing duties and to remind the guests to keep their hands off the women.

The Coombes argue that their business would not interfere with the marina’s family atmosphere. The women only take their tops off when the boat has reached international waters (3 miles off shore). At the dock, the women dress conservatively — with a shirt over the bikini — until the boat has motored away from the marina.

“This was not done as a stunt to get media publicity,” says Harold Coombes, who before moving to Fort Pierce four years ago operated a charter business in Delaware. “This was a legitimate attempt to get business. There’s a big difference between my boat sitting at the dock one day a week and my boat sitting at the dock four days a week.”

All’s quiet at the Coombes’ new home. “There’s no lewd weirdness going on,” says Sheila Marocco, Harbour Town Marina office coordinator. “We’ve had no problems. They haven’t offended anyone.”

The Coombes moved their boat to the Fort Pierce City Marina in early March. The 1974 Trojan is powered with twin 435-hp Cummins diesels. Harold Coombes ran a 25-foot Parker as a charter fishing boat in Delaware and a 31-foot Stamas prior to that.

Smokin’ Em offers eight-, six-, and four-hour outings for $1,250, $950 and $650, respectively. “We fish for sailfish, grouper, snapper, dolphin, you name it,” says Harold Coombes. It’s an additional $100 for each woman in a bikini and an additional $150 for each topless woman. The Coombes also offer inshore fishing trips for snook, spotted sea trout, and redfish aboard a 20-foot Hewes flats boat with a 150-hp Yamaha two-stroke. Bikini and topless women are not available for these trips.

Smokin’ Em’s eviction from the city marina has stirred up quite a media frenzy, which has been great for business. “My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” says Harold Coombes.

Still, the Coombes say they won’t be happy until they return to the city marina. “It’s the place to be,” says Kathi Coombes. “It has all the walk-up traffic. Friday Fest is there and the flea market every week. It’s so busy all the time.” (Friday Fest is a monthly street festival with entertainment, food, drinks, arts and crafts and children’s activities.)

If allowed, they would operate a different boat — their 38-foot Luhrs out of the city marina without the topless or bikini-clad women and run the Trojan with the women out of HarbourTown.

Kathi Coombes says she had booked nine charters out of the city marina, but none of them were with the women. The Coombes say the charter business is a competitive one. They speculate one of the other charter captains “planted” the brochures at The Tiki Bar & Restaurant. The Coombes printed the brochures but did not intend to have them distributed at the restaurant. They say they may have intimidated other captains because of their different personal appearance, which includes tattoos and non-traditional boat attire.

That’s nonsense, says Capt. Fox Watkins, whose 48-foot Pacemaker was docked next to the Coombes boat. “Why would I be intimidated?” says Watkins, who has rented a slip at the marina for more than 15 years. “The guy wasn’t set up for fishing, and that’s fine with me. I’m here to take people fishing.”

Capt. Jay Senne, who runs the flagship (a 53-foot Hatteras) of the 12-vessel charter fleet at the city marina, says he’s glad Smokin’ Em Fishing Charters is gone. “It’s kind of like having a nice house and having a Go-Go joint open up next to the house, do you know what I mean?”