Maryland Gov. Harry R. Hughes may be vulnerable in a reelection bid, but he played the man of steel Saturday when his boating party pulled four sailors out of the frigid waters of the Severn River.

Hughes, his wife and a party of aides and business associates were winding up a cruise aboard the state yacht Aurora at about 3 p.m. Saturday when they spotted a sailboat capsized off the shore of Severna Park and four "cold, shivering persons" clutching its upended keel, Hughes press aide Lou Panos said yesterday.

The four men had been in the water about 15 to 20 minutes. They were unharmed but in great discomfort, said Panos. Another sailboat spotted the crew but was too small to help right the boat.

Hughes and his party pulled the four aboard and towed the sailboat to shore before heading back to Annapolis.

None of the sailors seemed to recognize Hughes but Panos said when he asked Philip Ashpes of Fairfax whether he knew he'd been rescued by the governor of Maryland, Ashpes replied, "If you have to be rescued, you may as well be rescued by the man at the top."

Also aboard the capsized boat were Ronald Ashpes of Fairfax; Phillip Horton of Washington and Reginald Jacobson, of Atlanta.

Panos said Hughes wrenched his back slightly when he pulled one man aboard, but added laughingly that Hughes was not fazed by heroics. "We call him 'Hairbreadth Harry,' " he said.