The Frigate Juno (1802)
The 1802 Peace of Amiens, a treaty that brought a short-lived stability between Spain and England, had not yet been signed when two Spanish frigates, the 34-gun Juno and the 40-gun Anfítitre, arrived at the port of Veracruz to make hull repairs. After finishing the repairs and getting everything ready for their voyage to Cadiz, both frigates left the Mexican port on January 15 with the intention of calling at the port of Havana. In total, they were carrying 700,000 pesos in silver.
It was a difficult journey. A strong storm hit the two frigates as soon as they left Veracruz, and forced their commanders to make a call at Puerto Rico to protect themselves from the adverse winds and repair the serious damage that both frigates had suffered.
They were not able to sail again until October, this time with the added task of transporting the Third Battalion of the Africa Regiment.
After twenty days at sea, when they were off the Bermuda Islands, another storm hit the two frigates head-on. Strong winds, heavy seas and constant rain separated the two ships. The frigate Juno continued its journey northward in search of more favorable winds, but she never made it.
On the night of October 22, battered by rough seas and strong northeasterly winds, the Juno’s mizzenmast snapped. The launch, which was lashed to the waist of the ship, was tossed against the gunwale. The bilge filled with water and the four bilge pumps were not enough to remove the flow of incoming water. The frigate could not be steered.
Finally, the 23rd day dawned a little calmer. Work was done to repair the damaged planking both inside and outside the hull and they continued bailing water. Faced with the risk of sinking at the bow, Bustillo ordered to throw part of the artillery and two of the anchors into the sea.
The next day, a sail was sighted on the horizon. It was an American schooner named Favorita, which offered to help the frigate, sailing alongside her under the command of Juno’s captain, Juan Ignacio Bustillo. Alongside one another in the middle of the ocean, some officers were transferred from the frigate to the schooner, together with some supplies, to try to get closer to land and reach a safe harbor on the U.S. coast.
But on October 27, a new storm hit the frigate and her rescuer. The Juno lost her rudder, which was replaced by a makeshift steering oar and the mainmast snapped. Without two masts, without some sails, without two anchors, without a rudder and without part of the artillery, the frigate looked more like a prehistoric raft than a 19th-century warship, but even so, they continued to fight against the pounding waves and winds, trying desperately to keep the ship from being overcome by the waves and from sinking irremediably. The Favorita got as close to the Juno as she could, but due to the wind and swell there was nothing the schooner could do to help the warship this time.
The next day, the frigate had disappeared. After so much suffering, she had sunk with all the crew, passengers and a significant cargo of silver. The schooner Favorita searched for the Juno without success until it was decided to abandon the search and sail for the city of Boston, whose port she reached on November 1.
Francisco Clemente, the frigate’s lieutenant who had transferred to the Favorita along with six other people, gave detailed testimony of the shipwreck and provided the names of the 425 missing persons.