Conversational snippets from opening day at the United States Sailboat Show, the biggest in-the-water sailboat show in the nation:

"I'll tell you what I'll do," offered a tall man. "I'll give you Marsh Hen at dealer cost. You give me . . . " The sentence trailed off, unfinished, in the crowd.

"See that solar collector?" asked another. "It's running this refrigerator."

"Base price?" asked a man on a Kirby 30. "I've heard base prices of $35,000 and then they commission the boat for $60,000. So what's base price?"

On a Ted Hood 38 the salesman said: "There is no base price. This is base price."

And so it goes at the show that started the booming phenomenon of in-the-water sailing expositions 12 years ago and remains the leader. This year's show opened under azure skies with the traditional press and trade day.

Public days will be Thursday through Sunday starting at 10 a.m. daily. An extra "buyer's day" has been added on Monday, when the admission price doubles to $12 a person.

Buyer's day is designed for serious would-be boat purchasers to get a final look and price on boats of their choice without the hassle of the immense weekend crowds.

There are 288 boats tied at makeshift piers along the City Dock, the most ever for this burgeoning exposition. Also, there are countless marine exhibits at tents on the grounds, and hundreds more boats atop trailers and on cradles on high ground.

It is, according to industry people, the one boat show of the year that serious dealers and manufacturers feel they cannot miss.

For most of the people who shell out $6 admission, $2 for parking and dribs and drabs of money for food and drink, it's a time to dream.

"We all have our dreams," confirmed Barbara Hyde of Alexandria, who was looking at boats in connection with a Caribbean charter deal she's drumming up business for -- a low-calorie sailing adventure with a handsome skipper and a schooner.

Everybody here has an angle. Goldberg's Marine is selling "skinny-dip clips" to keep your suit afloat while bathing in the buff; Dorsey Smith is representing the Carib Dory, an 11 1/2-foot bathtub with a motor, a sail, and a glass window through the hull for fish-watching. "I just represent these things," said Smith. "You don't think I'd be foolish enough to buy one, do you?"

The most beautiful boat in the fleet is Alerion, a 26-foot wooden remake of the boat Nathaniel Herreshoff designed for his own retirement. It is a classic and perfect sailing boat, magnificently constructed by brothers Edward and Alfred Sanford in Nantucket, Mass. It costs $44,000, with no motor.

There are plenty of huge, gleaming sailboats that cost upwards of half a million dollars and have microwave ovens, air conditioning and stereo. One boat, the AYC 60, has five heads and four showers.

"This boat," said AYC salesman Ray Tankersley, "is particularly designed for charter as a tax shelter for people in the 50 percent-and-up tax bracket."

Thus it combines beautifully the two purposes of this show -- sailing and selling.

One hint. If you come, park at the Naval Academy football stadium on Rowe Boulevard off Rte. 50 for $2 and take the shuttle bus to the show. It is almost impossible to park in Annapolis.