back to article Godmother of Unix admins Evi Nemeth presumed lost at sea

The New Zealand authorities have formally called off the search for the sailing cruiser Nina, and say its seven-person crew, which includes Evi Nemeth who for the last 30 years has written the system administration handbooks for Unix and Linux, is now presumed lost at sea. Nemeth was sailing off the western coast of New …


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  1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    I am shocked ...

    ... to hear that there is actually documentation for this Unix stuff.

    But seriously, losing people at sea is pretty sad. I'm surprised that the EPIRB signal hasn't been heard from. But its possible to get one of these units fouled in rigging (which abounds on sailboats). Or manual units just don't get deployed in a bad knock down.

    1. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: I am shocked ...

      "... to hear that there is actually documentation for this Unix stuff."

      The Unix and Linux system administrators handbook has a cartoon ship on the front with caricatures of typical Unix types.

      Very sad news.

      1. plrndl

        Re: I am shocked ...

        So you've never heard the phrase RTFM? What planet are you from?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I am shocked ...

      Linux may have a way to go to catch up, but documentation was very much a part of the Unix culture from the start.

  2. Don Jefe

    The older EPIRB units had to be manually activated and in a sudden event there may not have been time to do so. There is also a very real chance the unit simply failed. While they are highly reliable they do have "use by" dates and often people don't replace them. Same with flares and PFD's: Sadly even experienced sailors (arguably especially experienced sailors) are guilty of a bit of over confidence and don't carry up to date gear.

    The new units are automatically activated by water pressure with no manual intervention required. To the best of anyone's knowledge the Nina was fitted with an older unit that was not automatic. It is all tragic.

    1. Stephen W Harris

      Must be _really_ old EPIRBs 'cos the ones in the early 90s would automatically activate in water. At least the ones we had onboard our ships did.

  3. Ketlan

    Purely personally...

    A major shocker. Matt Wootton has been an integral part of the Green Party here in Lancaster, UK. Keeping fingers firmly crossed...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Purely personally...

      "A major shocker. Matt Wootton has been an integral part of the Green Party here in Lancaster, UK. "

      Looks like he found out the hard way that just because you care about nature doesn't mean nature will care about you.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4"

      You do realize it is currently July don't you? The Nina was lost a month ago...

      1. rcorrect

        Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4"

        "You do realize it is currently July don't you? The Nina was lost a month ago..."

        This is why I shouldn't post just after waking up and before I put on my glasses.

      2. Long John Brass

        Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4"

        Yep a month without contact is bad. But boats have been missing longer than that & still turned up with crew still alive.

        The Tasman sea is a very shitty place to have problems, very rough, very windy

        But as long as all the hatches were closed; even getting rolled shouldn't have killed the boat

        Yachts have large chucks of lead on the bottom of the keel to help them right themselves

        Depending on the design the two easy way to kill a boat of that vintage is to either loose the keel completely or if the mast steps through the deck then breaking a mast can rip up said decking letting in vast amounts of water

        If the keel is the bolt on type they can fail & let water in that way, if the keel is integrated into the structure that should happen.

        Haven't seen anything discussing the design of the boat so the various failure modes are just pure speculation

        Personally I hope they all turn up safe & sound, but as you say a month has gone; It isn't looking good :(

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4"

          > Haven't seen anything discussing the design of the boat so the various failure modes are just pure speculation

          There is more information here:

          1. Simon Brown

            Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4"

            Fixed keel / ballast so unlikely to have separated. Both masts are firmly attached to the hull at their base and above to the roof of the cabin. Any significant movement could split the roof I guess: eg rolling if she lost power and her sails and was beam-on to a 25' swell, especially if she got hit by a freak wave. Sad end to a majestic yacht - the first ever significant Marconi-rigged racer.

            And remember children, keep your safety gear serviced and up-to-date. You never need them til you need them, and by then if it's broken it's way too late.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4" Privacy laws

            From a link from the article you linked too.

            "He says that because of privacy laws, it took days for the US government to authorise the satellite-phone carrier to release the message.

            Read more:"

            With all the snooping going on they are claiming that they are following privacy laws?

            It is interesting that the article claims they survived the original storm.

      3. Ketlan

        Re: "The boat was last heard from on June 4"

        Yep. Still, hope is hope.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RIP Dr Nemeth

    I loved the old red UNIX system admin book - written at a time when the UNIX Wars were in full swing and Nemeth, Snyder et al had to describe six different close variants of each action for whatever they were describing (and then write something completely different to cover AIX).

    A sad way to go, but thanks for the contribution to my life, Dr. N.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Briefly pedantic.

    Demons are fallen angels.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Not pedantic enough

      Demons are only fallen angels in the Judeo/Christian theology. As the quote in the article notes, daemon had an older parentage amongst the ancient Greeks. For eg that was the sense Phillip Pullman used the as in his books.

      1. Steve Mann

        Re: Not pedantic enough

        Just so long as you don't pronounce it "day-mon" near me, you can derive the origin for the term however you want.

        No ligatures in those man pages = pretentious and annoying pronunciation in 5% of the admin population.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Briefly pedantic.

      Falling angels working for Maxwell??

  7. Chris G Silver badge

    Epirbs get taken for granted

    In my experience most cruising sailors have ancient epirbs tied onto the rack designed for them because the rack no longer functions, then odds and sods are hung all around making access difficult.

    Epirbs are designed with a function for annual testing which is seldom carried out.

    In contrast most charter boats and day boats who are less probably going to need them; have shiny regularly tested epirbs that are 99.999% going to function.

    Cruisers are a breed apart and are very individualistic and have their own priorities, so if they are in Davy Jones Locker they went there doing something that was indelibly in their blood.

    The sea can be a dangerous place, in 2010 Worldwide;172 commercial ships were reported as total losses and about 250 crew.

  8. WonkoTheSane

    Cue the conspiracy theorists:-

    Blaming the Bermuda Triangle, Somali Pirates, or even Apple / Microsoft SEAL teams in 3...2...1...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cue the conspiracy theorists:-

      for real conspiracy theory, remember to have the tiniest hint of something that did happen - so, given it's a conspiracy about bad things in the waters around New Zealand, look to the French secret services.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Cue the conspiracy theorists:-

        You can also link it into the current NSA leaking, because UNIX = computers, innit?

  9. efbatey

    Lessons from Evi's plight

    Old prior sailor from older sailing family. Always good to hope and pray for our friends, Evi, if you're really gone, thanks for all you did, including teaching my yf more Unix in an hour than I in a lifetime. God Bless.

    Working for a large oceangoing business, I'll testify that resources, technology and training are essential to success and survival. Learned as a pre-teen the sea is a harsh and unforgiving place. A 20 to 40 meter sailing vessel is a big investment. Some seas and seasons are higher in risk, the Tasman in southern winter is one.

    In my 50 years in communications and navigational technology, the tools have improved and prices gone down. Radios, RADAR, position tracking and reporting were many thousands. Today ask, is my and friends life (lives) worth Sat-phone, Sat-internet, weather data, Sat-position reporting?

    I hope not to live to hear any more friends lost at sea. PLEASE, ask your friends to make the small $100 to $700 investments for phone and tracking, the $150 per year subscription, and, stay clear of the worst seas. Benefit from our loss of this friend. It's cheaper than a ticket on a cruise liner.

    Likely not hers nor the Masters failure but we can all look back at the losses of others and do better. At least our friends and loved ones can tell what happened.

  10. JamCam


    She was apparently well maintained, so it must have been some blow to shred the storm canvas.

    Running under bare poles there is a risk of broaching, old wooden boats sometimes open up the seams between planks in a heavy broach, when this happens they can sink in seconds. Though I suspect we'll never know.

    All very sad.

    1. Kevin McCready

      In addition to the comments above about design of the boat and possible accidents.

      1. There's no such thing as a freak wave.

      2. I doubt that the design would "pop" the boat back up to proper position after a roll as quickly as the most modern most safe designs.

      3. Falling off a high wave would easily smash the cabin top away and unless there was separate sealed area underneath (and I don't know what the design was) water ingress would be immediate and probably catastrophic.

      4. Sails, even stormsails, should have been taken down before shredding. It's easy to say that of course and in a huge blow or roll the sails could be torn loose from the gaskets securing them in their furled positions.

      5. If there was only one epirb on-board I would be upset.

      6. When conditions are so bad that you're under bare poles you should be in a survival suit with your personal epirb attached. That still may not save you, but it's better than nothing.

      7. I noticed the dinghy in the youtube click was secured to the foredeck. I hope that wasn't the arrangement in serious offshore sailing in bad weather - a recipe for getting your dingy splintered or the supports tying it down ripped out.

      1. JamCam

        With respect to stability, or more properly, recovery from capsize. Nina has one of the best hull-forms for this, her angle of vanishing stability (AVS) should be 180 degrees or very close to it, so she'd come up straight away. In contrast most modern boats have considerably lower AVSs often between 115 1nd 130 degrees, as was discovered in the 1979 Fastnet and the1998 Sydney to Hobart, with some boats staying inverted for a long time. Incidentally, the Winston Churchill's loss in the 1998 Sydney Hobart race is closer to the kind of indecent that you'd expect with a boat such as Nina ( a heavy broach followed by very quick flooding).

        Nina's lines are here:

        Olin Stevens refers to her as having 'a tall staysail schooner rig and a rather light hull carrying a heavy lead keel' (Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts. Ed. Rousmaniere. pp 26)

        For stability curves of various hulls Rousmaiere pp72. Nina is similar to the first one.

        On storm canvas. Don Street said he'd sailed Iolaire, a 1903 yawl, into 50kts and hove to in 70kts. The traditional storm survival tactic for long keelers is to heave to until the waves are breaking close to the boat, then run off. To that end you'd expect to keep the storm sails up through the blow, and may well, as Bill Tillman did leave them to blow out on the grounds that it's preferable to risking the crew's lives in getting them down.

        As for deck houses yup, Adlard Coles in the first edition of Heavy Weather Sailing has many tales of smashed deck housed and tenders swept away (the tenders seem not to have smashed the deck, merely disappeared in the night)

        If you're into this stuff both books well worth reading.

      2. Ru

        1. There's no such thing as a freak wave

        Would you prefer "rogue wave"? Or perhaps "totally natural but rather rare and effectively unpredictable wave of substantially greater height than prevailing sea conditions" if you're not into that whole brevity thing.

        Either way, I'm reasonably certain that they're a thing that exists, and that "freak wave" isn't a totally unreasonable term for them.

        1. Nigel 11

          I read a paper about giant waves once. (I found that the maths was nearly as heavy as the seas it described). Basically, once sea waves get very large, they cease to behave in line with simple theory, and start to attract each other. This means that the distribution of size of ocean waves has a long (and very dangerous) tail. Where the ocean is shallower than a good few times the height of the wave, things get even worse.

          "Freak wave" seems a reasonable term for something that a mariner will see no more than once or twice in a lifetime of seafaring.

  11. s. pam

    Evi was also very important to USENIX association

    You guys missed an important part if her contributions!!

    Evi worked with several key folks in USENIX, the UNIX association for many years and made significant contributions there as well.

    The worlds a little worse of losing Evi.

    Fair winds to her going out in something she truly loved doing...

  12. Rainer

    Probably got what she wanted

    May sound harsh - but at 73, you don't need to be a genius to assume that any major injury at sea could end up fatal.

    Having been hospitalized next to people slowly dying of old-age, I have a feeling it wasn't the worst choice.

    I have to say, though, on the photo she looks a lot healthier and fitter than a lot of sysadmins I know that are halve her age. She seemed to have known about "work-life balance" long before the word was actually coined.

  13. Evoflash

    Article URL

    Maybe change dead to missing?

    1. Sir Sham Cad

      Re: Article URL

      Sadly this story is about the NZ authorities oficially declaring the crew of the "Nina" lost at sea.

      It's the correct word even if we all hope it still turns out to be wrong.

  14. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Without wanting to turn this into a seamanship lesson...

    I hope they are found.

    Nobody can know the exact circumstances in which she foundered (if indeed she did) but she was a big boat, most likely undercrewed in terms of practical experience rather than number - and most likely dog tired, cold and hungry to boot. To assume they would have been able, with that rig and crew to have dropped the storm sails under those conditions is a huge assumption.

    Hove to - works up to a point. Drop the sails and run off downwind under bare poles assuming you have the searoom, stream warps from the stern or deploy a parachute from the bow - and maybe run the engine to try to maintain some steerage. Keep the tea coming. Keep your liferaft prepped and have all of your grab bags packed well prior to the weather, just in case - and don't abandon ship until you actually see her go down.

    What can you say - all the above fine in theory - and to suggest that those things hadn't been done would question the seamanship of the skipper, and no-one is in any position to do that at this point.

    I hope she is found. But she's probabaly gone. Smashed and rolled off of a wave, or simply overpowered.

    All these risks are known. But it doesn't stop me sailing either.

  15. StoneTheKiwis

    Having been a commercial fisherman around the top end of NZ in an earlier life, I can say first hand that the Tasman can be tougher than you could imagine. Once caught in 110knots (recorded at Cape Reinga lighthouse) while the forecast was for 15 - 25kts. This was before satellites; my boat survived but another boat didn't. Lost a mate when his boat was overwhelmed near the coast up there - a skipper and boat that had survived many years cray fishing at the Chathams in some of the very worst weather. Things happen at sea to the best of us and the best of our boats.

    May the Nina and all her hands find peace and contentment in whichever world they find themselves.

  16. venneford

    Evi gave me my start in System Administration.

    She loved teaching that subject. Had added a course specifically for system administration at CU. It was, in theory, a 1 credit hour class, but it was a heavy workload. She came in the first day with printouts of the second addition of her book and had the class proofread it over the semester. Each chapter was a week. We'd run every command and verify that it did what the book would say it did and she made sure that we understood it. By the time you left that class, you knew how the various flavors worked and why they worked the way they did.

  17. forrie

    Evi surprised me

    I first met Evi at the LISA99 conference in Boston, MA. I was a young-ish sysadmin at the time, coming from what was generally a "man's" world - it was strange seeing your "grandmother" telling you how to run your systems, and doing a damned good job of it.

    Before the conference, Evi was very motherly, making sure everyone had pads of paper and such. I said hello to her and I was very taken by her personality.

    I was at home watching the evening news when I saw Evi's face on the report and I listened attentively. It's been a very sad several days, as much as I've been hoping somehow they made it... it appears one of the best teachers and admins of the world has been lost. As the article aptly says, she died doing what she loved the most.

    I am going to miss her presence -- even if it's been primarily virtual. She emailed me a long time ago, telling me that although she is retiring and looking forward to sailing, she would continue to be involved in the community.

    Rest in peace, Evi...

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