Early yesterday morning on the St. Mary's River, people were sharing cocktails on sailboats, curled up in cabins to sleep or stretched out along decks in the sun, bare feet twitching as they napped.

Some boats were still gliding across the finish line of the Governor's Cup Yacht Race, and along the horizon a few white sails bobbed along, coming up the river. They sail the course from Annapolis to St. Mary's City overnight for two reasons: to take advantage of the way the wind tends to pick up after sunset on hot August nights and, not incidentally, to ensure a really good time.

"The upside of getting here in the morning is you have all day to party," said Russell Baker, 53, who in the 1970s was one of the St. Mary's College of Maryland students who had the idea for the regatta.

Some years, the race takes forever, a long, grueling night and sweltering day creeping around the Southern Maryland coastline. This year, the wind was strong, with the first downwind start in a decade, and the first of the 155 boats cruised in, cheering, before 2 a.m.

Once the sailors anchored at St. Mary's College, they turned to their next goal: staying awake for the party.

Buck Downes of Crofton got in around 5:30 yesterday morning. "We had a great time," he said a few hours later at the sailors' breakfast, laughing at his friend Billie Lauper, who was sound asleep with her head down on the table.

He'd been enjoying the morning. "We made some bloody marys, and when the vodka ran out, we made rum punch," he said.

He hadn't slept since Thursday night, but he was staying for the steel-drum bands and dinner and everything else. His plan: "more rum."

Pat Hogan was buzzing on adrenaline from the race; he thought his boat Finish Line might have won its class (and it did). "It was incredible, exhilarating," he said. They sped along at 20 knots and saw the sun set over the water, turning fluffy little clouds pink. They watched a brilliant orange moon appear, so bright they didn't know what it was at first. The sky turned dark and clear, and stars shone overhead just like the tiny white mast lights. "It was just a beautiful, beautiful night," he said.

"You can't do much better," Downes agreed. "Unless you keep going and don't stop till Bermuda."

Hogan was finishing up eggs, toast and sausages at St. Mary's Parish Hall, which had more hungry sailors than parishioners had seen in the more than 20 years they've been holding this fundraiser: The wind was strong, so everyone was getting in early.

By 10:30, Sandy Sweikar said, they had run out of food and gone to the grocery store for more supplies three times. They'd fed about 500 people and watched more than a few drop onto couches and start snoring.

All of St. Mary's College became a bed yesterday for those who chose napping as the strategy. Some booked rooms in dormitories, but the campus is isolated and quiet enough that benches and the small beaches worked just as well for many.

People stretched out on their backs on the grassy hill by the boathouse, arms folded behind their heads.

Andy Shaw slept on the wooden floor of the Maryland Dove, the 17th-century-style boat that held the race committee; another crew member was tucked into a coffin-size cubby behind rough linen curtains.

People used their rolled-up sails as bolsters, life preservers as pillows, rails as footrests.

"Sleeping on sails is extremely comfortable," said Lori Pierelli, one of the Annapolis-based crew of Bruce Gardner's boat L'Outrage, which won the most competitive of the trophies.

Now and then, heads would pop up out of cabins, like gophers coming out of holes, as people woke up and squinted at the sun.

A lucky few lived nearby and could sneak home for a familiar bed and a hot shower. "We usually finish at 2" in the afternoon, said 26-year-old Kristi Kleinhesselink of Great Mills, hauling her gear up the hill before 9 a.m., and grinning, still excited about the breeze. "I can't believe we have a whole Saturday."

After a few hours' sleep, she'd be back for the party, ready to go, just like everyone else, she said. "It's about your tenth wind."

The crew of the 48-foot sailboat Sjambok gets moving at the start of the 2004 Governor's Cup 71-mile overnight yacht race from Annapolis to St Mary's City. The event attracted 155 boats.Russell Baker, a founder of the Governor's Cup race, took part in his own boat for the first time since 1988, this time with daughter Tricia, 12, among the crew.