OSTON OUTER HARBOR - Six miles at sea, Captain Kurt Andersen ordered 77 cadets aboard the Tall Ship Danmark yesterday morning to set the sails while he set a course for a celebration that has begun to mark time like the pendulum of a grandfather's clock.
On Andersen's command, the deck erupted into coordinated maneuvers as men and women heaved on lines, then heaved and heaved again. Theirs was a ballet to the thump of sneakers running over a wooden deck and the squeak of blocks high in the rigging overhead.
Slowly the sails unfurled; four jibs, two staysails, and the topsails, gallants and royals on all three masts caught the brisk northwest wind.
The 252-foot-long ship was lazy at first, heeling to port as if it were an inconvenience. But the wind prevailed, and the Danmark surged toward Sail Boston 2000, an event that has begun to feel more like a reunion than a novelty.
City and state officials had predicted as many as 1 million spectators would line the shores to view the Parade of Sail; about 1.2 million came, according to a Boston police estimate. The Coast Guard had expected up to 10,000 recreational boaters to drop anchor along the parade route; its final count yesterday was 3,400 boats.
''I believe we had a banner, perfect-10 day,'' said Patrick Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Center.
Moscaritolo said the crowds may have appeared a little thin because an estimated 2 million watched the 1992 parade, which fell on a Saturday. He attributed the lighter turnout this year to vessel timing: Ship schedules forced the parade's grand entrance to occur on a weekday after stopovers in Connecticut and Rhode Island for other Tall Ships festivals last week. Many ships will leave Sunday to race to Halifax, then Europe, for similar celebrations.
Boston police reported no arrests and no accidents that could be attributed to yesterday's parade, and the Coast Guard reported the same, noting that it probably helped to have eight cutters and scores of smaller law enforcement boats from three other police agencies on the scene.
''Despite heavy vessel traffic, we know of no arrests or major medical problems,'' said Captain Charles Beck, commander of Coast Guard Group Boston.
And dire predictions that the Tall Ships would congeal Boston's notorious rush-hour traffic into full-scale gridlock seemed far-fetched yesterday.
''Things have been going smooth. We've had light to moderate traffic,'' said State Police Trooper Charles Kane. ''Some of our patrols were sent home two hours early.''
The day was not totally without glitches.
The MBTA's morning shuttle buses from the JFK/UMass-Boston T stop to Castle Island let passengers off on Farragut Road, a 25-minutehike from viewing spots - under an order from Metropolitan District Commission officials. The MDC later reconsidered, and the shuttles gave curb-to-curb service.
MBTA spokesman Brian Pedro said the transit system had carried about 1.3 million passengers by noon, compared with 500,000 to 600,000 on the normal morning commute.
T officials said they were relieved that the party began to break up about 1 p.m., so there was no heavy crunch of Tall Ships celebrants and home-bound commuters at afternoon rush hour.
Michael Mulhern, deputy general manager of the T, said he worked the Tall Ships festival in 1992 and yesterday seemed less crowded.
''We did handle an awful lot of people today,'' Mulhern said. ''Friday and Saturday, this weekend, we might see more.''
Yesterday, 147 vessels, divided into 17 flotillas, cruised one after another into the harbor in a parade that started at 8 a.m. and concluded at 3:45 p.m. There were 21 Class A ships - the biggest ones - with three more such ships from South America due later this week.
It has become an unwritten rule that Danmark goes first among the foreign Class A ships participating in American Tall Ship parades. Built in 1943, Danmark escaped Hitler's occupation of Denmark to spend the rest of World War II as a training platform in American waters for US Coast Guard officers.
And so, with all sails flying except the main courses and the spanker, Danmark fell in line astern of the USS Constitution and the Class B schooner America, riding the 12-mile-per-hour northwesterly most of the way to Boston.
At Spectacle Island, the inbound channel turns significantly right - which yesterday sent ships dead into the wind. When they couldn't sail, they motored.
''We keep the sails up for show,'' crewman Kristian Halse, 18, explained from the second crow's nest almost 100 feet above the foredeck. ''It makes no sense, but everyone on shore likes it during parades.''
Halse said he climbs to this perch whenever the opportunity allows; a mid-Atlantic sunrise seen from here, he said, ''is what heaven must feel like.''
So as Danmark, sails set, motored upwind into the harbor under a sky that would have depleted the cobalt blue on an artist's pallet, Halse was looking down at a city he had never before visited, keeping his thoughts to himself, but smiling.
Thomas C. Palmer Jr. of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Jessica Roeber contributed to this report.