Many Washingtonians were happier yesterday than they had been in several days. After a bout of meteorological unpleasantness and uncertainty, they were determined to have spring--weather permitting or not.

People came out of their houses full of longing and with hopes of leaving winter behind. But it was an in-between day, neither very good nor very bad, and despite their optimism, people seemed undecided about what season they were in.

They picnicked, went cycling, and jogged. They also wore down vests, sweaters and scarves. Some went fishing, or walked along the Mall. Others were thinking of skiing, or waiting for the ice on the Sculpture Garden Skating Rink to refreeze.

"It's been ugly around here," said 27-year-old Kelly Smith, who was picnicking with a friend at Gravely Point near National Airport. "It's nice to do fun winter things, but just to work in it and exist in it . . . . I've started looking at sailboats."

There were, however, signs of transition. At the Columbia Island marina near the Pentagon, boat owners were preparing for the new season.

Gene Bussard, a retired FBI laboratory examiner, was seated in the sun outside his 32-foot cabin cruiser "Hide A Way," while his wife Linda, a Fairfax County fifth-grade teacher, cut his hair.

"Hide A Way," like most of the boats, still was wrapped in her winter canvas. But the night before, the Bussards had taken her down to the Wilson Bridge and back for the first cruise of the year.

In preparation, the Bussards had purged the cruiser's two 225-horsepower engines of winter antifreeze. "Guys are getting the itch and blowing the antifreeze," said Gene Bussard. "When the boat people start blowing their antifreeze, it means spring is close by."

John McCure, a 16-year-old, T. C. Williams High School sophomore, was casting for perch off Gravely Point, without much success. "I don't think we're going to get anything. I don't even think there are any fish here," he said. "But after sitting in front of the TV all winter watching fishing shows, I was kind of anxious to get out of the house."

At Dupont Circle, a group gathered in the bright sunshine, some of them sitting on park benches, to take part in a gay rights voter registration drive. The Different Drummers band stood on the fountain steps and played "Satin Doll," "Take the A Train," and "The Washington Post March."

"Anita Bryant says the reason for all the storms and earthquakes on the West Coast is because of the gays," said Larry Kriloff, a member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city's largest gay rights political organization. "But if this is any indication," he added, gesturing toward the clear blue sky, "she's wrong."

A block away, at Connecticut Avenue and Q Street, Catholic University freshman Lori Morrissey was hawking croissants from a pushcart on the sidewalk. The croissants were big and plump, some of them bursting with fruit fillings. Customers smiled and were friendly.

"We worked in the winter and when it rains, boy, are they mean," said Morrissey. "They don't want to take their hands out of their pockets. Especially the ladies with gloves. I guess they don't want to touch anything. On rainy days I don't even want to come to work."

In the morning, dozens of skaters were gliding across the ice at the Sculpture Garden rink on Constitution Avenue. But by noon the temperature reached 52 degrees and the rink was closed.

"It's very soft," explained rink guard Gary Locke. "You get 200 people out here and it gets all messed up. It's not safe, either."

Matt Okun, a 25-year-old instructor with the D.C. Youth Orchestra, and his wife Checky, had called the rink and listened to a recorded announcement that it was open. They stood nearby, holding their skates.

"We wanted to get some more skating in before the winter ends," said Matt Okun. "Actually, we're just waiting for a friend. We'll probably go play frisbee now."