For John Mautz it was a lark. Don Abram's only goal was survival.

They were among 50 ice racers from across the United States, Canada and Europe who rode for the North American ice boat championship on the rock-hard Miles River today.

It was the second straight day of perfect wind and azure skies. The breezes held steady at 15 to 20 knots out of the frigid Northwest.

The Michiganders and Wisconsinites said it felt like spring, but they had already lost all reason from exposure.

When it was over today the new North American champion was John Schuch of Mt. Clemens, Mich., who earned that distinction on the basis of 2-4-1-2-1 finishes in the five final races. Second was Zbigniew Stanistanski of Poland and Tim Woodhouse of Detroit was third.

Abrams and Mautz were stuck down among the DNFs (did not finish), their dreams dashed by collisions and destruction on the gray, unforgiving river.

Mautz is a local hero. He lives a block from the host Miles River Yacht Club. He is big, strong and totally new to the sport.

A veteran sailor, Mautz spotted the ice floaters when they hurriedly convened here last week after being snowed out of Red Bank, N.J.

On Wednesday Mautz conned a ride on one of the advance party's boats. By Sunday he had talked regatta chairman William Connell into selling him an ice racing boat for $1,000.

On Monday Mautz raced against the top ice floaters in the world and secured a berth in the final, no mean feat in itself.

"It was all for fun, I'm just lucky to be here today," Mautz said this morning.

That luck held for two races as Mautz finished respectably in the middle of the pack. In the third race, he was shot down. "It was on a port-starboard. I had the right of way, but this guy in the red boat wouldn't give way. It all happened so fast." Mautz' molded plywood hull was gashed and shattered by the prow of the offender. He still doesn't know who it was.

Abrams, who car-topped his racer down from New Jersey, had no dream of finishing on top. "I just want to finish," he said before today's race.

He almost did. But Abrams, who calls himself the world's best flipper, got caught in a squeeze and wound up on the bottom.

It was at the windward mark of the simple, two-mark course.

I was laying the mark. Then this other boat started squeezing and he wouldn't ease off. Next thing I knew I was pitch-poled.

The shrouds caught the mark and the boat just flipped and went dowm on the mast."

That's the way it was on the ice today, the gloves were off for the feature out. There will be more of the same Tuesday and Wednesday as the scene shifts to the Gold Cup world championship, with the same cast competing again for internationl honors.

The organizers couldn't ask for better conditions or more competitive fire.

In Sunday's elimination heats there were stirring moments.

Dana Scott of Philadelphia flipped his boat in front of the race committee crude shelter and the boat careened crazily, dragging Scott along behind, before screeching to a harmless halt.

Tony Mancini of Red Bank flipped out of his boat and it drifted unmanned across the course, then slid off an edger into the drink.

But today the accent was on competiting and collisions were the result. Before it ended at least 10 boats were smashed and shattered.

The Europeans won no diplomatic immunity. Two of three of the German entries and one of the Polish boats were knocked out. Dutchman Jan Eindhoven was carted off in the rescue boat after a gruesome erash near the leeward mark.

Yet the ice racing remained a joy to watch. There is technique and strategy in the running and the possibility of bone-jarring wrecks is omnipresent with a fleet of 50 racers going at once.

Headquarters were at the Miles River Yacht Club, a half-mile north of St. Michaels, but the racing generally was a mile or two away, depending on the course placement.

There are practically no spectators - the hike across the ice is almost prohibitive. But with forecasts of easing wind, that could change and make watching almost bearable.