High and Dry was the name of the canoe. It was anything but.

High and Dry came roaring through the chute at Leadshot Rapids on Sunday. Well, half of it did. The bow half, with the name stenciled on. The stern was somewhere else.

The two fellows who had been paddling High and Dry were somewhere else, too. Presumably they were high and dry themselves, since no one was unaccounted for at the end of the first wild-water race of the season on Codorus Creek in York, Pa.

But four boats were lost for sure and a fifth was presumed down and out.

"You never really know how many boats are gone," said Terry Nesbit, who was acting as safety man at Leadshot Rapids. "Usually when people wipe out like that they just shake their heads and walk out of the woods."

The first crocus hasn't poked a green shoot out of the ground before the whitewater canoeists are out challenging the scariets streams they can find.

Eleven months of the year, Codorus Creek is a dirty little trickle. Then in March the snow melts, the rains thunder down and the ground thaws, creating a brief and turbulent maelstrom.

The river rats arrive with fever in their eyes.

Ron Keech is the organizer of the annual mid-Atlantic racers' blastoff at Codorus. He had a crew of aboug 70 paddlers facing him when he gave out the starting numbers at 9 a.m. Sunday.

There was still snow on the ground from a dusting the night before. Canoeists hopped from one foot to the other, pulling their wet suits on and beating their arms against their sides to keep warm. The temperature was 30, with sharp winds gusting from the north.

Keech made an announcement. "There will be an ambulance on the course," he said, "about halfway down."

"Good," said a paddler. "I want to make a reservation."

Keech picked the right spot for medical assistance. Where the Codorus course begins at the Springettsbury Township Wastewater Treatment Facility the water runs fast but harmless.

It stays that way until about two miles down, where three sets of rapids shape up. First comes Leadshot, then Upper Dee and finally Lower Dee.

They go from dangerous to disastrous.

A small band of spectators gathered at Leadshot to watch the excitement.

The first 25 boats or so simply bobbed and bashed their way through the churning holes and the two-foot standing waves.

But they were covered boats -- wildwater kayaks and canoes that can do complete flips without taking on water.

Then came the open boats.

A cry went up from the crowd when the first one appeared.

"Open boat!" they shouted, "open boat!"

There were two men aboard and they did not like what they saw. The worst of Leadshot is the first 25 yards, where the stream climbs over a ledge and dumps into a hole on the other side.

The men started back-paddling, but all that did was swing the bow around, so when they crashed over the ledge they were sideways. The downstream gunwale buried itself in the froth and as the paddlers flailed away, water poured in.

Within seconds the men were bobbing through the fast water, buoyed by life jackets, while the green hulk of the hull slashed along through the channel.

Safety ropes were tossed out, but the grinning paddlers flipped them away and rode the whitewater out. At the bottom of the chute they recaptured the canoe, bailed it out and took off for more.

"Wait till they ses Double Dee," said a safety crewman. "They'll wish they stayed put."

There followed a stirring sequence of swampings, capsizings and narrow escapes. The front half of High and Dry came roaring through and every few minutes another paddle or piece of flotation or a bailing bucket would flahs by, half submerged.

Cindy Geesey, stationed at the bottom of Leadshot to retrieve sunken boats, found herself inundated.

"I missed a few," she said. "They were coming down so fast..."

Then, when the last boat was through, she turned her decked boat around and headed for the finish.

And capsized in Double Dee.

A good percentage of the boats at Codorus carried Washington-area paddlers.

The nation's capital is something of a hotbed for white-water paddlers and Washingtonians claimed some victories in the season-opener. Dan Schnurrenberger of the Washington Canoe Club won the men's kayak; Ginny Stillman won the women's kayak; Dick Bridge and Jean Goertner of the Canoe Cruisers Association won the two-person canoe (mixed), and Howard Foer took first in the one-man canoe (junior).

Next stop on the racing circuit is Wardensville, W. Va., for two weekends of competition on the Lost River. The Lost River Slalom will be March 24-25 and the wildwater race will be March 31-April 1.