IF THE landfall is by day, the island appears first as a mere smudge on the horizon; by night, however, it shines from afar, marked by the twin beacons of Gibb Hill and St. David's Light.

Sometimes it's a bone-weary crew who pass through Town Cut at dawn, after bombardment by a squall-soaked night, to kiss the ground at St. George. But another time you coast in under biggest spinnaker, pulling a cloud of nylon down at Spit Buoy, ducks pressed and the skipper pouring champagne.

Bermuda--for an East Coast sailor, it's always the grandest landfall of all: a genuine foreign shore that lies only 650 miles out across a progressively bluer, warmer, and more friendly Atlantic. The turbulent gulf stream is now forgotten; for the last 100 miles, the King's English urges you on from radio station Zed BM; within 50 miles the first Bermuda longtail appears in the sky, flitting welcoming circles around the mast.

After four or five days sailing (or maybe eight or nine days in a 25-footer with no engine), the island appears, right where the sextant said. Or should have said.

Not every sailor in Bermuda has sailed there, of course. But whether he arrives by plane, cruise ship or yacht, the place endlessly reminds the visitor of the sea around it. So it may be argued that a great lot of tennis should not be played on Bermuda, or flowers endlessly surveyed; we should indulge instead, while there, in oceanic endeavors.

To wit:

* Wangle a ride on a fitted dinghy.

This should be no more difficult an achievement than learning French. Fitted dinghies are 14-foot keelboats with long bowsprits and three sizes of masts -- a very tall mast for light air, another mast for medium air, etc. Each of the yacht clubs has one and they race in harbor for the prettiness of it and the tradition. Although it helps greatly to know someone or to be extremely rich, hanging about on race day could just result in an invitation to crew, especially if you happen to be a former olympic sailor or some such. Because crewmen are encouraged to jump overboard as the dinghies approach the finish line, count on being the first to go. Crouch on the stern, wait for the skipper's command, and give a good push with the legs in departing so to thrust one's comrades on. Don't worry, some spectator boat will pick you up and towel you down.

In any case, do inquire "when the fitted dinghies race," and try to be there.

* Ride no moped.

The rental of mopeds, or pedal-assisted motorbikes, is a flourishing business on Bermuda, and considered part of island lore. They are also the sole source of a local malady known as "road rash," which is caused by falling off of them. You may be a motocross champ, but it is likely that at least one member of your party will not be much at home on a moped, and will not enjoy negotiating heavy, wrong-way traffic along winding lanes with oleander-covered sheer coral walls. Why rent a moped when taxis are more civilized, buses more social, and the Bermuda harbor ferry more of a bargain?

* Rent a sailboard.

The harbor ferry in Hamilton will take you to Paget, across the sound, from which it is a five-minute walk to a pleasant landing offering Windsurfer and Dufour models. The water is so extravagently blue, and the sights of Hamilton harbour so giddy, that even the splash-and-flail level of sailboarding is rewarding. The rate is about $10 an hour. Bear in mind that if the wind is blowing into the little cove where the rental landing is, you'll have to tack (zig-zag) your way out. Boardsailing is something like riding a bicycle: to learn, you must be prepared to fall. On the other hand, expert sailors do not have a great advantage at first, so you may just be able to show up Mr.-Annapolis-Race-Week the first time out. Take instruction or read up carefully, go in the morning when there's no wind or chop, and leave the afternoon free.

Afterwards, you'll need a nap.

* Assume the worst about yourself.

You will look ridiculous in Bermuda shorts, stockings, tie and blazer, even though the natives look quite dashing. Most restaurants will expect a blazer, and a tie is not a bad idea. When introduced to a Bermudian, use his or her entire first name in response. (Frederick becomes "Fred" rather slowly in Bermuda; and occasionally it never does become "Fred" at all.) If invited for cocktails at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, bear in mind that women imbibe only in its Women's Annex. The Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club, on the other hand, now invites women right up to the bar with the men. Bermuda is a small island, and the traditions are British, and a certain formality is expected. Should you try riding a bicycle with your shirt off, be prepared to be told by a cab driver to put one on.

* Make the acquaintance of a boat yard.

Charlie Loder's in Red Hole next to the Hamilton Dinghy Club is a wonderful one. It is rather small, and there is room for only one or two world cruisers up on the skids, and otherwise it offers nothing to see but Charlie Loder. However, if your rudder has fallen off on the sail down, or if you think someday you might make a sail down during which your rudder might fall off, it is mighty nice place, and Charlie Loder a mighty nice fellow, to get acquainted with.

* Beaches, surf and bathing.

Many ocean sailors are uncomfortable around surf. To them, surf is something you listen for with your heart in your mouth while sailing through the fog with no idea what the four-knot current has done to your course. Then somebody yells SURF! and you spin the wheel with your hair standing on end and go back the way you came in.

Even so, Horseshoe Bay is a knockout. It lies a half-hour by bus from Hamilton, where the Atlantic rolls onto a spectacular half-circle of pure white sand and the water is crystal clear and bathtub warm. It is a postcard come to life, and if you can look at the surging reefs without thinking what they would do to a sailboat's hull, there is no prettier place to swim.

* Where to stay, if not on a yacht.

Many visiting boats arrange to stay at one of the several yacht clubs, thereby assuring showers and electricity. It is more pleasurable, I think, to anchor out in Hamilton Harbor, commuting by dinghy to downtown. You may not even need the dinghy, as the harbor ferry will often pick you up and take you home if not too busy.

Otherwise, a private cottage is nicest, perhaps in Paget. You can share a cottage with pals, and be spared the traffic bustle of Hamilton, and share the expense. The ferry then becomes town transit.

Many sailors stay at the Princess Hotel in Hamilton, which is a fine hotel.

* Fishing.

It should not be hard to go fishing once in Bermuda, but it may be hard to do it on the way down. Sailing and fishing traditionally do not go together, supposedly because fish blood stains teak. In olden times -- say, 1959 -- skippers made a great show of forbidding it. Now that decks are fiberglass, skippers still make a show of forbidding it. The reason is that they never catch anything.

If your skipper is one of those, obtain the article entitled "Catching the Big Fish" by Robert J. Westervelt in the April 1982 issue of Sail magazine. Following his advice this summer, we caught a 15-pound wahoo 300 miles out. The skipper was unhappy about the blood, but after one mouthful of raw wahoo he was transported.

* Dreaming.

Of course, it often happens that one's companions in Bermuda are more interesting in playing tennis, dining like kings, reading paperback novels, going to the discotheque, and sleeping late (a tragic mistake on a brief vacation to paradise) than they are in the bounty of the water surrounding them.

So while they are asleep, it is a good time to visit the customs dock in St. George. There, with luck, you will find the long-distance sea travelers established in a little bevy hard by the quay.

There may perhaps be an ungainly little tub from Durban, headed round the world, next to a Westsail 32 from Florida, adjacent to a doughty English family drying their mattresses after punching across the pond from Bristol. You may circulate among them, perhaps strike up a conversation, certainly learn something about the sort of folks for whom Bermuda is not a vacation weekend, but a week's layover in the cruising life.

In 1975, there was a fellow from Sweden tied up near the Customs Dock. He had a funny and cluttered little boat, from which hung a sign that read "Woman Crew Wanted." We bought him drinks and so did everyone else, for he was tired of sailing alone and craved companionship of the feminine kind. He had a very long beard and he smelled like a codfish. After a week of waiting he announced that, alas, it was time to be moving on.

The next morning he gravely painted over the first word of his sign. Almost immediately an adventurous young fellow turned up, and off they went at three knots toward some distant shore.

Lately a whole lot of shiny new restaurants have sprung up in St. George, so the Customs Dock is really not so remote and you could drag everybody there. There is even a small historical pub right next door.

All in all, mucking about in boats is just grand, and Bermuda a cheerful place to do it.

Down you come after the 90-minute flight from Baltimore-Washington Airport, ears popping, flight attendants strapping in, until the contours of the waves are apparent and the bouys and reefs can be seen. The plane banks slightly, and just below a little ship can be seen, her wake spun white, splashing toward harbor from some far port.

Next time, you can always hope, the little ship will be you.