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A Different Kind of Marathon in Dana Point

The Dana Point Interpretive Center is hosting a book reading of Richard Henry Dana's novel, modeled after the East Coast's 'Moby-Dick' Marathon.

You've got your Boston Marathon and the USA Channel Law & Order: SVU marathons, but this is an entirely different kind of marathon.

The Dana Point Historical Society is hosting a literary marathon as part of the Festival of Whales and is looking for help.

The third annual reading of Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana Jr. will be March 8-10 at Dana Point’s Nature Interpretive Center

The book is a recollection of a sailor’s voyage in the 1830s from Boston, around the Horn of South America, to the California coast to trade goods, describing what is now Dana Point as “the only romantic spot in California.”

Volunteers are needed to fill reading spots of 8-10 minutes, and to fill the posts of “watch officers,” to supervise for two-hour shifts at the event. There are other shifts for volunteers such as timers, checkers, and loggers (who log volunteers’ times before and after reading).

The reading is a reproduction of the Moby-Dick Marathon that is celebrating its 17th year at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts. During a three-day period, volunteers read Melville’s class for 25 hours nonstop until the book is finished. 

Dana and Melville, born exactly four years apart, were friends. 

The idea to create a West Coast version of the reading came from Ann Leibowitz, summer resident of a town near New Bedford, who moved to Dana Point and inspired the Historical Society’s director at large, Elizabeth Bamattre, to host a similar event.

“I came to Dana Point and saw all of the interest in Richard Henry Dana, and suggested they do a similar reading of his book because it really is such a neat idea,” Leibowitz said.

Bamattre immediately put the Before the Mast’s reading into play in her Dana Point community after actually traveling to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford with Leibowitz and speaking with their director of programs about how to replicate the Moby-Dick Marathon. 

“The marathon is a huge thing in New Bedford,” Leibowitz said. “Around 2,000 people turn out for theirs, and they have 125 volunteer readers, usually.”

Before the Mast’s reading only needs a total of about 95 volunteers, and 50-60 reading slots have already been filled, according to Leibowitz. 

The reading will take about 15 hours over the three-day period with different time slots each day. 

“Crowds for the event are usually bystanders who wander through and stay about a half-an-hour so we get from half-a-dozen to 20 people at a time,” Leibowitz said. “But some people stay because they get caught up in the story.”

There will be books available to listeners if they want to follow along as it is being read aloud, she added.

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