The federal commission in charge of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee voted yesterday to sail a 300-ship international flotilla, led by three dozen Tall Ships and reproductions of Columbus' three vessels, into New York Harbor on July 4, 1992, beating out Baltimore's bid for that honor.

However, commission members and planners in Baltimore said it was likely that Baltimore would serve as the "out port" for the fleet, highlighting a Chesapeake Bay celebration a week later.

"It's a disappointment," ackowledged Stanley Heuisler, editor of Baltimore magazine and head of Columbus 500/Baltimore, the city's project team. "We'll all have a couple of drinks at lunch and feel sad.

"But the message we got from the commission was that there are two premier cities in the United States capable of hosting the Tall Ships. We can accept being the second city in this case -- reluctantly -- so long as it still gives us the potential to stage a regional celebration."

The ceremonial fleet will retrace Columbus's trans-Atlantic venture, assembling in Genoa, the Italian-born explorer's home, and stopping in Lisbon and Cadiz, Spain, before heading west to the Caribbean -- what Columbus mistakenly believed was "the Indias."

The flotilla will make ceremonial landfall at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then move up the coast to New York. There are tentative plans for a similar fleet of ships from the Pacific, including trading vessels like those that sailed between the Orient and Mexico centuries ago, to converge on the West Coast on Oct. 12, 1992, the true 500th anniversary.

Baltimore had proposed a series of maritime events from Norfolk to the Inner Harbor, international television production and the creation of a permanent Christopher Columbus Institute for marine biotechnology on the Baltimore waterfront.

The proposal had the support of the governors of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania and was designed to avoid being what one Baltimore booster called "just the nautical version of a Columbus Day parade."

In announcing the selection of New York, Frederick Guardabassi, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., yachtsman and head of the commission's maritime subcommittee, said, "An awful lot of thought, a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making this decision . . . but ultimately it was based on the cities' ability to perform certain services, to provide certain monies, and on their experience."

New York has been host to the Tall Ships several times between 1892, when they also escorted replicas of Columbus's ships into the harbor, and 1986, when they led a flotilla in honor of the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty.

"Well, the comfort factor was always to go back to New York," said Heuisler. "And it would have been a risk to come in here. The commission members really liked the city; they enjoyed our crab cakes . . . but they would not have known until the Fourth of July {1992} that we could pull it off."

Quincentenary commission members said New York had guaranteed to match the $11.1 million spent on the '86 Tall Ships parade, plus an inflation adjustment.

"I think our budget was $98 million, so it was never a question of resources," Heuisler said. "That covered everything -- corporate contributions, national and international television rights -- and it included a surplus of $10 million."

The Tall Ships celebration is only one of the projects sanctioned by the commission. Others include the Coronado and DeSoto trails, hiking and tourist routes following the Spanish explorers across the Southern part of the United States; the joint Chicago-Seville World's Fair; a maritime exposition in Genoa; an international floral exposition in Columbus, Ohio; a 500-year time capsule, and joint sports and arts programs sponsored by the United States, Italy and Spain.

There also will be local celebrations all over the country, not only in the urban centers: "We know every city, town, hamlet, post office and road crossing named for Columbus, where they are and which ones used to be called Sheep Dip," said John Williams, director of the jubilee staff. (One of them, of course, is the District of Columbia.)

International planning also is under way. Yesterday afternoon, at the State Department, the U.S. jubilee commission held a joint meeting with heads of the Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican, Argentinian and Italian groups and a representative of the Organization of American States.

Every Latin American country, including Nicaragua and Cuba, has active Columbus commissions. According to Francisco J. Martinez-Alvarez, a jubilee staff member, "You go to Spain, and '1992' is everywhere. By the time it comes, people are going to be saying, 'What, this again?' "