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.