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.
Continuing the clock analogy… 12 o’clock. Wind on the nose = NoGo. 2 or 10. Wind on the cheekbone = Close haul. 3 or 9 = Wind straight on the ear or shoulder = Beam reach. 5 or 7. Wind behind the ear = Broad reach. 6. Wind directly on the back = Dead downwind. Jibe ho!
At some point, any experienced sailor stops looking at landmarks and just feels the wind. Without visual indicators, sailors who are blind feel wind from day one. Sometimes it helps to describe wind as numbers on a clock face. Ask your class to point to the wind. That’s 12 o’clock. Have them turn around, so the wind is at their back. That’s 6. Ask your students where they feel the wind… On the face – does the wind feel faster? Cooler? Back of neck – does it feel slower? Warmer?