Newport sail community keeps the faith

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Even in a driving rain and heavy winds nearly 500 people from all over Rhode Island, including members of the Coast Guard, were crammed into a tent erected at the Newport Shipyard, May 18, enjoying piping hot clam chowder, cold beer and salty tales. But despite the pleasantries, everyone had gathered that night to show support for a local crew lost at sea.

Even in a driving rain and heavy winds nearly 500 people from all over Rhode Island, including members of the Coast Guard, were crammed into a tent erected at the Newport Shipyard, May 18, enjoying piping hot clam chowder, cold beer and salty tales. But despite the pleasantries, everyone had gathered that night to show support for a local crew lost at sea.

Read the other story on this topic: ‘Serious error of judgment’ in mishap

Earlier in the month, on May 7, a brutal storm with hurricane-force winds hit North Carolina, catching four boats in its fury. (For a full account of the storm, see The Current, Page 7.) One of those boats was a 54-foot Little Harbor, Flying Colours, which had been headed for Annapolis from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although the Coast Guard received two EPIRB signals from the yacht, and launched an extensive search, no sign of the yacht and her crew — skipper Patrick “Trey” Topping, 39; first mate Jason Franks, 34; Christine Grinavic, 26; and Rhiannon Borisoff, 22 — had been found as of mid-May. Topping and Franks are seasoned sailors and both had their 100-ton captain’s license.

“The first call I got was from Jason saying he’d be home in about eight days. The next call I received was from the Coast Guard saying they couldn’t find the boat,” Franks’ mother, Carol Dale, said before the crowd. “But nothing has come up that has proved to me that they are not coming home. We are all totally faithful that they will come in.”

As a visual display of support, a number of people who attended the event wore yellow buttons with “Hope” printed on them. “I’m wearing it to show my support and help keep hope up that the four sailors will be found,” says Tricia Shaw, who works with Grinavic’s mother, Mary, in the Walpole, Mass., school system.

Between the smiles, cheers, hugs and handshakes, many conversations focused on brighter times with the four missing sailors. “[Franks] is a great fun guy. I call him Captain Adventurous,” Newport resident Mike O’Neill says. O’Neill, 26, had known Franks for about three years. “I remember about two days before I heard about all of this I came across a picture of Jason. I remember thinking, You know, in the small crowd of people I like in this town, he’s one who I know I can trust. He just enjoys life and having fun, just like most people in this community.”

Walter Cavanagh, Borisoff’s boyfriend, was pleased that so many people turned out. “It’s really no surprise all these people came. This crew is known by everyone here in the area,” explains Cavanagh, who is 26. Cavanagh started dating Borisoff about a year ago.

“Rhiannon grew up in Baker City, Oregon, but her family has always had a home here in Newport,” he says. “She always considered Newport her second home.”

Borisoff had only recently learned how to sail — as crew aboard a charter boat in Newport — but has a passion for sailing and being on the water, says Cavanagh. “That’s how she met Christine, while crewing that boat. They both love life and love the water,” he says.

Cavanagh, who has sailed and crewed a number of boats, including Flying Colours, met Topping and Franks about two years ago. “Trey is a real character,” he recalls. “He’s been to so many places and done so many strange things, he tells stories endlessly that always have you laughing. He’s an extremely intelligent guy. He loves reading. He loves traveling and he loves adventure.

“He’s a serious captain,” Cavanagh continues. “He’s been in life-and-death situations before. Flying Colours is a solid boat. My gut tells me she’s still out there, and they’re all still on board.”

The Coast Guard officially suspended its six-day search, but the agency says it will restart the investigation if any new leads develop.

A fund has been established to help defray costs to the families. Donations can be made to the Flying Colours Fund, c/o The Newport Shipyard, 1 Washington St., Newport, RI02840.

For more on the search for Flying Colours and other vessels hit by the North Carolina storm, click on Soundings’ The Rescue Channel at

www.SoundingsOnline.com.