INTHROP - Jutting, as it does, straight into Boston Harbor and boasting miles of shoreline, this town had a prime view of the Tall Ships in yesterday's Parade of Sail. The day, of course, featured a cloudless sky with a glowing sun.
Yet, the streets were quiet. Parking spaces were plentiful. Most of the ship-gazers were locals who put down the binoculars just long enough to exchange knowing glances, or to lift their slush cups in a symbolic toast. Winthrop, it turned out, was a secret well kept.
''The town didn't publicize, `Come on down to Winthrop,' like Boston,'' said Winthrop Police Sergeant Paul DeLeo.
It seems that Winthrop officials were preparing for an invasion of Tall Ship-crazed outsiders while secretly hoping that no one would show up. Residents of seaside areas had been required to get a special pass just to get to their homes, in the event of heavy traffic.
Because the throngs stayed away, the day looked like a block party in the seaside neighborhoods of Point Shirley, Winthrop Beach, and Winthrop Highlands.
''Instead of the whole ordeal of millions and millions of visitors into Boston, this made it so we could appreciate the same thing, only as a community,'' said Winthrop resident Bonnie Haggarty.
''I like it, because we get to own our own beach and not get beat out by out-of-towners,'' added Haggarty's friend Wayne Milward. Their group camped on Winthrop Beach from about 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. with folding chairs, binoculars, and boxes of pizza.
To prevent chaos if the crowds had descended on Winthrop, police imposed parking restrictions that will remain for the rest of the Sail Boston festivities.
Residents of seaside neighborhoods had to apply for parking stickers, and no one else was to be allowed through police barricades. Shuttle buses ran from several locations to the beach.
But it turned out that the streets were so empty, police let cars without permits through. And those with non-Tall Ship business - say, baby sitters or delivery truck drivers - got temporary permits.
Not a car was towed. Not an injury reported. Police declined to offer a crowd estimate, but instead used the words ''moderate'' and ''sporadic.''
About the only gripe from residents was that it was unnecessary, after all, to ''play the sticker game,'' as resident Tom Sheehan put it.
The reigning peace and quiet might have been otherwise. Last week, Lieutenant Frank Scarpa said police expected even more than the 20,000 who flocked to Winthrop to see the Tall Ships in 1992.
Locals attributed the low turnout in part to the timing of the opening event on a weekday, when many people have to work. But they also suggested that selectmen, police, and residents all hoped to keep the ocean views to themselves.
''The town pretty much has the attitude of keeping it a closed community,'' said Classic Galleries co-owner Linda Esche, who added that the crowd yesterday was by far the smallest of any Tall Ships event in her memory.
Those outsiders who did journey to Winthrop exhibited glee that they were in on the secret. Jamie Leader of Brighton, Lois Slavin of Brookline, and others used words like ''beautiful'' and ''low-key.''
''If the people packed onto Castle Island knew about this, they'd be here instead,'' said Laraine Mitchell, who was selling slush from her beachfront yard. ''It's such an awesome spot to watch, and for what it is, there's nobody here.''