We woke up late. Raylan and I decided it was a fine day to go over to the ocean, and headed west to Dillon Beach. As we rounded the last corner down to the sand, just on the south side of the road, we were surprised to find a 10-foot tall pirate statue. He was majestic! His left arm held high, he wields a sword like he means it.
After a lovely time in the warm sun and sea air, we drove back up to the Pirate, and got out of the car, intending to learn about him. We found what looks like the remains of two cannon mounts and not one word about the Pirate! There was evidence that at one time, possibly, two plaques had been set. They were gone as well.
So began the hunt. Driving along, we took turns googling pirate Dillon Beach, pirate Tomales Bay, pirate origin, Dillon Beach. Nothing. We learned online that George Dillon founded Dillon Beach in 1958. Plenty of webpages talked about pirates up and down the coast, but no-one could tell us the name of this particular pirate. Some webpage even declared there had only been one California pirate, a Frenchman by the name of Hippolyte de Bouchard, who raided the Presidio of Monterey in 1818. We were stumped and couldn’t believe that there had been only one pirate in all of California.
One post said it was a statue to commemorate George Dillon. We figured there had to be more to it than that. We drove by the Tomales Regional History Center, which was closed for the day. We decided to call them later.
We put the search on the back burner, realizing we were hungry and a good pizza was in order. Not just a good pizza – we wanted a great pizza. Yelping Petaluma on the phone, we chose Hector’s Pizza.
We almost drove off after seeing the storefront shop. Yelp gave Hector’s four and a half stars, though, so we went for it.
We were shown to our table by Daniella. Raylan asked where the bathroom was. Seconds after going through the door, he rushed back out, grabbing my hand. “You’ve gotta see this!”
In the corner of the hallway leading to the bathrooms, was a second magnificent version of our pirate!
We read a little history about Hec the Pirate. Born in Italy, he took off as a young man to pirate and sail the seas, ending up jailed in America. He and his pirate friends Luc, Jean Lafitte’s grandson, and Bluebeard, Blackbeard’s nephew, escaped a North Carolina Prison in a bloody battle in 1845. They fought their way onto a ship sitting in the harbor, complete with crew, and took off, sailing south around Florida and onward toward California’s west coast.
They pirated their hearts out, battled here and there, and by the time the ship, the Painter, arrived in northern California, they were low on rations – and spirit. Luc and Bluebeard had both died recently in a fight near San Diego. Hec was on his own with a straggly crew in his pocket.
On March 1st, 1848, the ship threw anchor in Tomales Bay, at Dillon Beach. The men were tired of marauding and pirating. They crawled into their little dinghies and made their way to shore. There were a few settlers there, a small camp of Indians, and luckily for everyone, they worked together and created friendships among themselves.
Of course, you may remember, 1848 was also the start of the Gold Rush. It turns out, Hec wanted in on it. He and a few of his crew, and a couple Indians, traveled up to the mountains and by god, they struck it rich. They couldn’t believe their luck. They didn’t wait around to see what would happen next, either.
They made their way back to Dillon Beach for the summer, and traveled inland in the fall for supplies in a little town of Petaluma . New businesses were starting up to supply the surge of incoming residents north of San Francisco. Hec and his friends wanted in on that, too.
The consummate leader, Hec looked around and settled on opening a restaurant. He remembered fondly the dinner pies that his grandmother had made almost every day of his young life. He opened his first Pizza shop and lived over that little hole in the wall, never marrying, until one day, while throwing a pizza into the oven, he had a heart attack and died right there on the spot.
Hec the pirate!
We asked Hector, the current owner about Hec and the statue and the story. He confirmed it all. That statue in the bathroom hallway was the original Hec statue. Somebody copied it later and sculpted it at the beach, complete with the details of Hec’s life as a pirate. Hector told us though, a few of Hec’s descendants stole the plaques. They wanted to keep Hec’s life to themselves.
It was so funny.
Back to the Hector’s in Petaluma. You can’t find better pizza – and caesar salad – than what we found at Hector’s. Even the menus have a fine rendition of Hec the Pirate on the back cover.
I’m giving Hector five stars.