So what’s with the “a” in front of familiar words like beam, stern and aft?
Glassy water is gorgeous to look at… frustrating to sail. Look for cat’s-paws – textured, darker patches of water – and steer toward them. Cat’s-paws are tiny ripples on the water created by the wind moving across the surface of the water. On a light air day, steer toward them to find a bit of wind. On heavy air days, cat’s-paws indicate a gust is coming. Hold your course – but be prepared to vent your mainsail. So why are they called cat’s-paws? Don’t cats hate water? The idea behind this old nautical term is that the ripples look like a cat has just pawed the surface of the water… but didn’t want to stick a paw in to get wet! And, yes, the term really does have both an apostrophe and a hyphen. “Cat’s-paw.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2013.
A favorite story told at the Chicago Yacht Club concerns the humbling of Ted Turner by the Chicago-Mac. When he brought his Twelve Metre American Eagle to Chicago in 1970, Turner expected an easy ride and went so far as to characterize Lake Michigan as a “mill pond.” After two days of battering by a northerly gale, he contritely announced… “I hereby publicly retract anything and everything I have ever said about inland sailing.”* * New York Times, July 23, 2001.