The harbor lies quiet under first light as the patrol boat comes to life, burbling out blue-tinged exhaust that hangs low over the Annapolis City Dock.

Cpl. Frank Ditmars of Maryland's Natural Resources Police sweeps the deck and checks the oil. Nearby, U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen jog by in formation, chanting a cadence for their morning run.

The patrol boat is ready. Ditmars and his partner, Officer 1st Class Robin Shires, cast off. Cool morning air soon washes over them as they run their Boston Whaler up the Severn River--"the best river," Shires calls it, because the people who use it are so pleasant.

It's her second year on the water, his eighth, and their second year patrolling together. They preach boater safety, investigate the occasional theft and check that crabbers follow conservation rules.

The officers like their jobs, and will admit as much after a ritual complaint about hot weather. "Not too bad" is how Ditmars sums up his working conditions.

Yesterday's stops included one alongside a handsome 46-foot work boat, the "Leslie," skippered by Billy Crook, 41, of Kent Island.

Etiquette plays out: Shires asks how the morning is going before she clambers aboard. She checks the catch and finds no illegal crabs. She's quick with her work, for watermen count minutes lost as dollars forsaken.

Crook has his son, Nicholas, aboard. The 12-year-old is happy to be out on the water, never mind the nasty bruises on his thumb where the crabs have snapped him. After all, consider what's coming up: school.

"I'm not much on it," Nicholas says. "I don't want to go back."

He will, in just two weeks. But for now, the river still holds him, and he can count on more hours amid the bushel baskets and the gurgling crabs and the grumbling diesel engine.

Ditmars and Shires move on. They check on amateur crabbers in tiny skiffs, find eight underage crabs and toss them back, writing no tickets. They run out of boats to inspect.

They run the Whaler far upstream, maybe 10 miles, past glassy inlets and shaded banks. Mallards and sea gulls fly by. A white egret stands motionless amid tall reeds.

The officers stop at a dock about seven miles north of Annapolis to see what shorebound crabbers are pulling in. Not much, says retired banker Gordon DeGeorge, 68. "We only have five," he says.

DeGeorge is passing a lazy morning with his daughter, Christy, 27, and his pal Chris Miller, an electronics instructor at Anne Arundel County Community College.

Miller, 59, knows one thing about his crabbing season, and knows it all too well. "It's coming to an end here pretty soon," he says. "Like tomorrow, in fact."

That's when he reports back for the fall semester.

CAPTION: Sharae Forten, left, Londen Peterson, Kalynn Traynhan and Rocha Monroe play at the edge of the fountain in the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden.

CAPTION: Cpl. Frank Ditmars checks the size of crabs caught in the Severn River by Kevin Knight, 13, and Mason Torres, 11. He threw about six back.

CAPTION: Maryland Natural Resources Police Officer 1st Class Robin Shires checks the size of crabs on Billy Crook's boat on the Severn as Crook works on the day's catch.