THE NEWS THAT Malcolm Forbes' yacht The Highlander had burned in Florida waters left me feeling profoundly sad. Not that my life has been spent on rich men's yachts. To the contrary; the Highlander's teak boards were the only deck these old sneakers have ever trod. But the news brought back memories of a beautiful evening and certainly one of most memorable book parties of all the hundreds I've attended in 20 years.

The skipper of the Highlander is Malcolm Forbes, publisher and owner of Forbes maganize, a balloonist and yachtsman, bon vivant, proud father and the man often called "the happiest millionaire." His son, Robert Forbes, enjoys a rich man's hobby, collecting historical toy boats, some of them more than 150 years old. Together with Jacques Milet, he published a book with Charles Scribner's Sons, Toy Boats. The party to launch the book was held aboard the Highlander last year.

Trim, lovely, comfortable, the Highlander slipped out of the 79th Street boat basin on an incredibly beautiful late October evening under a full moon and began its cruise around the exotic isle of Manhattan. Aboard her besides the author and his dad, were Louis Auchincloss, Fran Lebowitz, Cleveland Amory, Ann Landers, James Brady and other bookish celebs. On every dining table stood as centerpiece an actual toy boat, one of the collection from the books. Dinner was a lavish buffet, and in the center of the banquet table sat a Faberge boat of gold and silver. Malcolm Forbes himself went from table to table making certain his guest had everything. The distant noise I heard was the crumbling of my working class prejudices.

When we arrived too soon back at the basin, a young steward, dressed in a kilt, piped us ashore to Scotland the Brave and Auld Lang Syne. It was the perfect finish to a perfect evening. I hope the Highlander will be built anew with polished decks, dazzling brightwork and its skipper safe in the cabin.