Last April while on our Belize island, I decided I wanted to create a center where guests can store their snorkel equipment. There was no central spot, and therefore this assorted gear was strewn all over the place, including the palm-shaded picnic table where the staff likes to eat their lunch!
So I decided to turn an old SUP rack into a bunch of large shelves where people can put their mask, fins, and snorkel when they are not using them.
I started out by getting MJ to build the new structure. Magdaleno Yacab is an amazing man. He’s funny, he’s sweet, he’s a fantastic kayaking, snorkeling, and surfing guide, and he can build anything you can think of. He finished the project, and then he went home for his week off.
So, Apolitico (“Pol”), Martin, and Neri said they would roof it for me. I took a ton of pictures while they were doing it, and once I had such a nice set of images, I thought maybe others would like to see how it’s done. So here’s your step by step instruction for making a palm thatch roof!
First they collect a whole bunch of nice coconut palm leaves, which are all over the island. Normally we don’t use palm leaves for our cabana roofs. The reason is that they are too short. Instead you want to use cahune palm.
Those leaves are something like 18 feet long. Every fall (in fact, in about 3 weeks) we take a whole pile, literally boatloads, of leaf out to the island from the jungle to reroof some of our buildings. We are on about a four year rotation to keep our Dining Hall and cabana roofs waterproof.
Here are some images to show you the difference between the two. See what I mean? The Cahune Palm leaves are much longer. So if you are making a roof yourself, get the longest leaves that you can find.
Next you have to split almost all of the leaves in half. The number you need total, and the number you need to leave unsplit depends on the size of your roof. But you only leave a tiny fraction unsplit. For the very small roof we made, I would say we left four of them unsplit.
As you split them, you keep them separated into piles of “lefts” and “rights”. Each side of a leaf is a mirror image of the other side. This difference is important, you will see why later. You don’t want to get them mixed up.
You will need some kind of scaffolding to stand on while doing your roof. Boards are often laid between rafters. In this case it was easy because of the shelves. The structure itself has a built-in scaffolding.
Next they attach the cord they will use to sew the leaf onto the structure.
These two stouter poles lean perpendicular to the leaf plane. They support the leaf temporarily while you are tying it on.
Now Neri starts handing up the leaf. You tie on six at a time, alternating left leaf, right leaf, with the V shaped channel facing up. What this does is catch every single rain drop that hits the roof. There are so many leaves, all with channels facing up, that a drop has nowhere else to go but be directed off the roof toward the edge.
As more and more bundles are passed up, they are tied down higher and higher up the roof structure.
Neri stands by to hand more leaf up when they need it.
When one side is done, they switch to the other side.
The second side is sewn just like the first side.
Six leaves make one stack, with the leaf alternating between lefts and rights.
You can see that even a small roof like this one uses a lot of leaf!
It’s getting closer!
As it gets toward the end, it can be harder to tie the last leaf.
Now they get on TOP of the roof.
Two small sticks are threaded through the two sides. This is what the top leaf is tied to.
The top leaf is whole leaf. It spans both sides. Remember to put the channels up to catch the rain water.
After tying down the top leaf, two long, thin poles are handed up. These go on either side to hold the edges of the top leaf down. If a wind catches the edge of the top leaf and bends it up, the roof will leak.
The top poles are tied down and it’s done!
The finished roof is a lovely thing to behold.
I think it’s going to be a nice addition to our sports center, don’t you?