HAMILTON, BERMUDA -- The "high muckey-mucks," as Larry Huntington calls them, all came by to congratulate him for winning the 37th Newport to Bermuda Race this week, but behind the scenes much grumbling was heard.

"Oh, there's grumbling all right," said the tall New York banker who beat 144 other sailors to take the coveted Lighthouse Trophy for best performance in fleet after 30 years of trying. "But we don't let it bother us."

The source of the discontent is simple: While some wealthy entrants in this venerable race spent millions on new boats and the latest electronic gadgetry and space-age sails, Hunt-ington took 1990's grand prize with a goofy-looking, 13-year-old castoff boat he'd bought for a song six years ago from a former prime minister of England, Edward Heath.

His 45-foot aluminum racer is Denali, named for the highest peak in North America because Huntington climbs mountains too. It's goofy-looking because instead of one mast, as all the proper racers have today, Denali has two, the front one being held up by a wacky array of home-designed crossbeams welded to the bow.

Huntington had wizard MIT engineer Jerry Milgram design the peculiar rig for two purposes: to "compete in ocean racing at the highest levels within a defined budget" and to safely cruise around Long Island Sound when he wasn't racing the unique craft.

"I looked for a way to do both," said Huntington, "and we came up with the cat-ketch rig."

The result is a boat that performs astonishingly well in races as long as it doesn't have to claw its way directly upwind.

Thus, when Huntington saw that this year's race was apparently going to be a straight shot, 700 miles directly into the wind, he did the only logical thing in his circumstance and took a roundabout route.

Instead of sailing for Bermuda against the southeasterlyt, as did almost all his competitors, he headed southwest toward North Carolina, zipping along with the wind over his left shoulder. A couple of hundred miles later, when a timely shift brought the prevailing breeze around to the southwest, he turned hard left and rode the newly favorable breeze into Hamilton Harbor almost 12 hours ahead of the nearest competitor in his class.

The crushing victory in small-boat Class E made Denali's performance the best in the entire fleet, and on Saturday Huntington was guest of honor at the governor's residence for the awarding of the 37th Lighthouse Trophy.

The grumblers say a boat such as Denali ought to be rated differently under the International Measurement System's handicapping formula because it has an obvious unfair advantage when the wind is in its favor.

"The boat's an anomaly," said veteran 12-meter sailor Rives Potts, who sailed here aboard the 57-foot Swan sloop Windsong. "The way it's rated, he wins everything he enters when he gets his breeze."

"Obviously, something needs to be done," muttered New York Yacht Club Commodore Frank Snyder, who won Class F in Chasseur. He said a boat that can't go to windward shouldn't be rated the same way as one that can.

"Sure, something needs to be done," agreed a leading yacht designer who asked to remain anonymous, "but nobody's going to do it because Larry's a nice guy and everyone would say it's just sour grapes. But it is ridiculous."

Huntington, who runs New York's Fiduciary Trust Co. when he isn't out racing his weird boat, sees it a bit differently.

"What I like," he said, glowing as a crowd pressed by on the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club dock, showering him with plaudits, "is to take an old boat like this that's ready for the scrap heap and give it a new life.

"Sure, the boat's skewed to certain conditions. We do very well on a reach {with a wind angle of 60 degrees or more} but we suffer when it's a direct upwind or downwind race, and we're rated {under the IMS handicap rule} accordingly. When we get our conditions, we do well. When we don't, we suffer."

And Huntington said no one ever complains about him on the days Denali gets clobbered. Newport to Bermuda Race results

IMS Class A: 1, Arcadia, Robert G. Stone; 2, Encore, James Dolan; 3, Merrythought, Jack King.

IMS-B: 1, Collaboration, Oliver Grin Jr.; 2, Gem, William Zeigler; 3, Night Moves, Thomas D. Gill Jr.

IMS-C: 1, Etoile, Eugene Sydnor; 2, Night Train, C. Wilson McNeely; 3, As Larks Harmoniously, Carlisle Knowlton.

IMS-D: 1, Leda, William Apthorp; 2, Troll-Fjord, Barrett Holby; 3, Prelude, William Shelhorse.

IMS-E: 1, Denali, Larry Huntington; 2, Jaqueline II, Robert Forman; 3, Elixir, David C. Noyes Jr.

IMS-F: 1, Chasseur, Frank Snyder; 2, Monterey, Leslie Crane; 3, Karyatis, Daniel Sullivan.

IMS-G: 1, Pirate, Juan Corradi; 2, Tonka, Paul Hubbard; 3, Sesame, George Sackett Jr.