"All waves, no matter how huge, start as rough spots—cats' paws—on the surface of the water. The cats' paws are filled with diamond-shaped ripples, called capillary waves, that are weaker than the surface tension of water and die out as soon as the wind stops. They give the wind some purchase on an otherwise glassy sea, and at winds over six knots, actual waves start to build. The harder the wind blows, the bigger the waves get and the more wind they are able to 'catch.' It's a feedback loop that has wave height rising exponentially with windspeed."
—Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm, 1997 (NY: HarperCollins, 1999), 119