What does it take to re-thatch our kitchen and dining room?
Earlier this fall, we began the process of replacing the thatch roof of our kitchen as well as one of our cabanas, Sea Grape.
These buildings, as well as several other cabanas and our kayak and hammock palapas, are roofed with cohune palm leaves. When harvested, placed, and secured properly, these leaves provide a durable and weatherproof covering for our buildings out on the island. The layers of leaves are able to shed rainwater and protect the building from the elements, while still being porous enough to allow ventilation in the hot and humid climate. The careful alignment of the leaves also reveals the beautifully intricate pattern you see when looking up at the ceiling from inside.
RE-THATCHING BY THE NUMBERS
800 COHUNE PALM LEAVES, HARVESTED FROM THE INLAND JUNGLE OF BELIZE
6 WORKERS, 7 DAYS TO HARVEST LEAVES
10 WORKERS, 7 DAYS TO REMOVE OLD THATCH AND RE-THATCH WITH NEW LEAVES
1 WEEK FOR LEAVES TO DRY OUT AND TURN FROM GREEN TO BROWN
Acquiring the leaves for re-thatching takes place in the Belizean jungle near Dangriga. Leaves are harvested within three days before or after the full moon. For this season, our leaves were harvested around the full moon in the middle of October. This window of time is important because it is when sap in the leaves re-enters the tree, which improves the durability of the leaves. At this time, there are also fewer bugs burrowing into the leaves, which also gives the leaves more strength.
If you’ve visited our island before, you may have seen our local guides demonstrate the process of preparing the palm leaves, aligning them, and tying them down. This is how our thatching crew does it—just on a much larger scale. The leaves of the cohune palm are used because of their size and strength. At 14 feet in length, they are much longer than the leaves found on the palms growing on our island and can span a larger section of roof. The longer leaves provide greater coverage on the roof and require fewer overlapping sections, improving the overall quality of the thatching.
The process involves one crew member stationed at each of the eight rafters that make up the kitchen roof structure. The cohune palm leaves are passed up to the workers positioned on the rafters, where the leaves are carefully tied down and woven into the thatch structure. Each row has eight layers of leaves, allowing for greater protection against the elements. The thatch is secured at the bottom of the rafters first, and work towards the peak of the roof. This structure lets water run down the leaves and off the roof, rather than filtering through the leaves and into the building. Once the top of the roof is reached, many layers of leaves are secured along the uppermost rafter, creating a cap to cover where the two sides of the roof meet.
The thatch roofs on our island typically last five seasons before we replace them with fresh leaves. Out at sea on Glover’s Reef, the wind, salt spray, and intense sun wear away at the thatch, eventually making it ineffective for protecting the building below.
What happens to the old leaves? We recycle them by updating the thatch on our kayak and hammock palapas.
Thank you to island staff member Martin Ramirez for taking photos of our re-thatching process this season!