ANNAPOLIS -- All through a damp, gray afternoon, the crowds gathered yesterday on the banks of the Severn River to watch the Blue Angels, the Navy's precision flying team, in its annual salute to the graduating class at the Naval Academy.
But the picnic atmosphere turned to disappointment. The squadron swept past Dewey Field only twice, canceling the rest of the show because of low clouds and occasional drizzle.
"I know it's real disappointing," apologized Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Franklin, a spokesman for the team of F/A-18 Hornets. "But it was just not possible for us to do it."
That didn't sit well with one 5-year-old who was weeping as her father hustled her off toward the parking lot. "It's OK, honey," he told her. "We'll come back next year. They'll do it again."
But the wife of a Navy pilot was just as happy the team abbreviated the show.
"They're not about to take any unnecessary risks," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "I would be disappointed if they had flown."
About 15 minutes before the scheduled 2 p.m. start, an announcer said the Blue Angels were "waiting for a break in the weather."
Time passed. Scott Weiss munched on fried chicken. The financial analyst who grew up in St. Margaret's, just across the river, remembered riding his bicycle to the Naval Academy sea wall when he was a kid to watch the Blue Angels. Yesterday, he was there with a crowd of friends and relatives, some children and a dog. "I can't wait to see them," he said. "I've been playing a computer game that has the same kind of jets they fly."
The weather still wasn't good enough, the announcer soon said. The Blue Angels would wait another 15 minutes.
Under a blue and gold striped awning, members of the Blue Angels' support crew were doing a brisk business in pins, baseball caps and T-shirts with the group's logo. The profits go to a special fund to help Blue Angels crew members in emergencies, explained James Stewart, a jet engine mechanic from Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
Nearby, Dan Myers and his buddies from suburban Philadelphia listened to two radio scanners mounted on a red, wooden wagon with a large, white antenna pointed skyward, hoping to hear the pilots' conversations.
"Hey, everybody's gotta have a hobby. And we appreciate listening to their professionalism," he explained.
Finally, the announcer said the Blue Angels would make only two passes "due to less than optimum conditions."
The fighters appeared low in the eastern sky, plumes of smoke pouring from their exhausts. They rounded Horn Point and streaked up the river, just over the masts of the academy's sailing fleet that were decorated with pennants and so close to the light poles on Dewey Field that they seemed almost to touch.
The planes crossed the Severn River Bridge, banked to the left, flew around a water tower and disappeared from sight, until reappearing in nearly the same spot a few minutes later. The diamond formation was slanted a little on the second pass so that viewers could get a better look at the aircraft.
As quickly as the fighters had arrived, they were gone to a smattering of applause from spectators already folding their lawn chairs and trying to beat the rush to the gates.