A little more than a month after retired University of Colorado computer science professor Evi Nemeth sent to shore an earnest text message plea for assistance from somewhere out in the Tasman Sea, neither she nor her six fellow sailors aboard the vintage American schooner have been heard from.

Crews with the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand have spent 12 days in the past three weeks searching for the vessel, using a New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion to cover more than 737,000 square nautical miles of often rough seas between New Zealand and Australia.

"But no sign has been found of the vessel or its crew," the rescue agency reported last week, stating it has "grave concern" for the fate of the yacht, named Nina, and those on board.

On Saturday, the grim news came that maritime rescue crews had suspended the search, concluding that their efforts had been "extremely thorough" and "had the yacht or life raft been within those search areas, we would have found them."

In the meantime, other boats and ships in the Tasman Sea are being asked to report any sightings of Nina, with a resumption of the search planned should any "new information (come) to light."

For Laszlo Nemeth, who left Boulder for New Zealand a week ago to help with the search for his 73-year-old mother -- described by some in the tech community as the "grandmother" of computer systems administration and the woman who wrote the definitive guides on the widely used Unix and Linux operating systems -- said the lack of even the smallest clue has made things tough.

"They hit a storm... is what we are told," the 46-year-old, a tech specialist himself, wrote by email last week while the search was still active. "Wish we knew more details. The imagination can take you to 100 different scenarios."

'Any update for Nina?'

The New Zealand Herald, which first reported on the missing yacht late last month, recounted a June 3 satellite phone call from Evi Nemeth to a meteorologist asking how Nina could avert some bad weather. He told her to head south and brace for a storm with strong winds and high seas, the newspaper reported.

The next day, on June 4, Nemeth sent a text message asking: "ANY UPDATE 4 NINA? ... EVI." That was the last communication received from the yacht, which set sail May 29 from New Zealand's Bay of Islands bound for Newcastle, Australia.

New Zealand rescue officials pinpointed Nina's last known location as 426 miles northwest of Cape Reinga, which is at the northern tip of the country.

Just last week, search officials managed to retrieve an undelivered text message sent from Nina's satellite phone system, also on June 4, that stated "storm sails shredded last night" and "now bare poles."

Despite providing additional information as to Nina's location that day, the message didn't result in any breakthroughs for search crews.

"Lack of communication after June 4 is the biggest worry," Laszlo Nemeth wrote last week.

'A very cool old boat'

In addition to Evi Nemeth, Nina also carried seasoned captain David Dyche III, 58; his wife Rosemary, 60; and their 17-year-old son David Dyche IV, all from Florida. The other three passengers were Briton Matthew Wootton, 35, and two Americans -- a 28-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman.

Laszlo Nemeth wrote that his mother had met the Dyches in Opua, New Zealand, where her own yacht was docked. She took a liking to the family and decided to join them on their boat, a classic racing yacht built in 1928.

"Nina is a very cool old boat and Evi is never one to let a chance to sail on a cool boat get past her," he wrote.

Nina's kitchen had "lots of storage area," he said, and the captain and his family "were quite seasoned at carrying long term provisions."

But it's "my mother" and "the boat itself," Nemeth wrote, that gives him the greatest hope Nina and its crew weathered the storm and are still floating around out there somewhere.

"She has been sailing and owned sailing boats for over 46 years," he wrote. "Most of the last 10 years she has been sailing. She has sailed the Med(iterranean), crossed the Atlantic, spent time in South America, did the Panama Canal -- all on her own boat.

'Rock star in tech world'

Trent Hein, co-founder and co-CEO of Boulder IT outfit Applied Trust and a former undergraduate student of Evi Nemeth at CU, said if anyone could figure out how to get out of a treacherous situation, it's Evi.

"I don't know where they are and what's going on, but if there's a way out of it, Evi's going to find it," he said. "I know how tough Evi is and how smart."

Hein said Nemeth gained such a glowing reputation in the tech field, especially in the Unix and Linux communities, that she took on the stature of a rock star.

"Evi has groupies," he said. "In the tech community, people will follow her around and try to get a picture taken with her."

Hein remembers Nemeth taking him and some other undergrad students at CU to Princeton University in the late 1980s to help her wire the New Jersey university's new computer science building.

Nemeth was an associate professor at CU from 1980 to 2001, where she taught networks, data structures, UNIX tools and system administration. She and Hein co-authored five books on Unix and Linux administration, which have been translated into 28 languages.

Hein said unlike many professors, who take a greater interest in their graduate students, Nemeth focused on the younger set at CU.

"What she was really known for at the university was developing undergrads," he said. "And that made a huge difference in the computer science program at CU."

Her other great love was sailing, Hein said, and she had a real zeal for international travel and adventure. But she was far from a reckless wanderer, challenging the high seas with little regard for the ocean's power. Quite the opposite, he said.

"Evi was always conservative in terms of risk management," Hein said. "She was always that grounded person who would say, 'This is how we reduce the risk.'"

Lynda McGinley, who first met Nemeth at CU in 1986 when McGinley worked as a systems administrator at the university, remembers sailing with Nemeth from Trinidad to Antigua a few years ago in Nemeth's 40-foot Nordic sailboat Wonderland. Nemeth, she said, would take steps to ensure she had all the safety gear she needed and that Wonderland was never in a position to be toppled by a sudden gust of wind.

"She was an excellent captain and helmsman, she was very organized," McGinley said. "She was always very, very cautious."

'We're still hopeful'

But while cautious in a profession that called for precision thinking and in a pastime that demanded full attention to the vagaries of the sea and the weather, Nemeth was ambitious and persistent in chasing her life's goals. Her first love was teaching, her son wrote.

"Teaching, always wanted to be teaching," he wrote. "Teaching grandkids to ski, ride a bike, family to sail."

Evi Nemeth grew up in Vermont, got her bachelor's degree in mathematics at Penn State University in 1961 and her Ph.D in mathematics at the University of Waterloo in Canada a decade later. In addition to teaching at several universities throughout her career, she spent eight years working with the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis at the University of California, San Diego.

Nemeth worked in Boulder during the summers, starting in 1976. She bought a house in Sunshine Canyon in 1983 after getting on full time with CU. McGinley said Nemeth, who divorced 40 years ago, actually purchased an old water pump house from the county and transported it up the canyon. She relied on a wood-burning stove for heat and used composting toilets, McGinley said.

Nearly 30 years later she would lose that home and another structure on her property to the Fourmile Fire.

"In a lot of ways, this feels a lot like the Fourmile Fire. She lost almost everything," Laszlo Nemeth wrote from New Zealand. "She had plans to rebuild and had just bought a historic cabin on Main Street in Gold Hill. She was very excited to live in the small community of Gold Hill and had already made several friends. She was very clear that she was going to live out her life in Boulder."

Everyone close to Evi Nemeth still hopes she will, despite the search for Nina having been suspended this weekend. McGinley says the fact that no debris has been spotted by rescuers -- something that would be expected in the wake of a sinking -- is a good sign.

"We're still hopeful," she said. "If anyone could survive something catastrophic, it would be Evi."

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or aguilarj@dailycamera.com. Follow on Twitter @abuvthefold.