When the 10th annual in-the-water sailboat show opened to the public today, the emphasis switched from sailing to sales, as it does every year on opening day.

The contract writers descended with their blue blazers and chinos and adamant smiles and the crews that hauled the 450 shiny new boats from New England, Florida and Pennsylvania and New York looked for a hasty route home.

"I haven't seen my family in three weeks," said Warren Luhrs, a lanky, rawboned blond who brought a 54-foot hunk of go-fast machinery bearing the Hunter brand name 1,300 miles from St. Petersburg.

Wait a minute, this Hunter isn't your everyday boat-show glittery gem. This boat means business.

Indeed, it does. The Hunter 54 isn't for sale. It's at the boat show for show only, and you won't see another like it anywhere.

"I decided to build this boat solely for myself," Luhrs said. "It's an OSTAR special design built for the trans-Atlantic singlehanded race from Plymouth to Newport next June."

And in June, Luhrs will take the helm and sail all alone from England to America in a race with 100 other boats.

How does a boat bum in a blue sweatshirt and a pair of muddy deck boots rate a boat like that?

Simple, Luhrs explained. "I own Hunter. I hope when you write that, you're not going to make it sound arrogant."

Luhrs is 34 and it develops, the son of Henry Luhrs, who for years designed and built some of the handsomest sea skiffs ever to grace the East Coast. "Leaky Luhrs," they were called, which is exactly what they were not.

Warren Luhrs learned his trade right, and now that he runs Hunter, which builds cruising sailboats, he's taking the opportunity to do a little research and development, risking his neck in the process.

Which is what sailing is all about, although it's harder and harder to unearth among the glitter and gaiety of show time here.

The Annapolis in-the-water show is a monster. The first of its kind, it has spawned lookalikes all across the country.

But it remains the biggie. And thousands of boat enthusiasts will converge over the next three days to poke and prod and peek in the slickest new boats in America.

"We almost hope for rain," one show official, said. "It keeps the tire kickers out and leaves space for the real sailors."

There is no way anyone can see all of the show, even going all four days. It's boat after boat after boat, tied stern-to and bobbing in the Spa Creek chop. When that grows old, displays of every imaginable marine gizmo, publication and idea are housed under two tents.

The boat show is a carnival, complete with patrons decked out in the latest yachting fashions from Topsiders to Souwesters.

And tucked away in the corners there's even stuff for old boating curmudgeon, to whom the word "new" translates instantly to "no good."

The boat show runs from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 until 6 Sunday at the city dock in Annapolis.

Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. Parking in town is almost impossible, but there is ample parking at the Navy football stadium just west of town. The $2 parking fee includes a bus ride to and from the dock.