Malcolm Tennant’s lifelong involvement with multihulls began at age 20 when he purchased his first beach cat in 1959. His hobby became his profession when seven years later Malcolm began designing and building A-class catamarans along with two friends, and later became a licensed builder of the Olympic Tornado.
Malcolm’s first large catamaran design was the Vorpal Blade (36’ / 11m) which he designed as a performance cruiser for himself in 1969. This boat sold before Malcolm could complete it but he moved on to design an increasing number of sailing multihulls following this design.
In 1973 Malcolm designed the now legendary Great Barrier Express (28ft / 8.5m) which became the archetype of the larger off-the-beach style catamarans. There are now over 300 of these iconic little vessels around the world including Malcolm’s own vessel.
The Great Barrier Express design in 1973 inspired many others to develop large off-the-beach-style sailing catamarans.
The GBE was followed by a stream of designs, from 1979, and over the next couple of years, the GBE and its bigger sisters, the Turissimo-9 and the Turissimo-10 also went into series production in a number of countries including New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, France and the United States.
In 1983, Malcolm made his entry into the world of power catamarans. Building on his design of the Cordova which was a motorsailer that could motor at 18-20 knots and yet sail at 24 knots, Malcolm made the leap to a an entirely new hull form that is now the standard in displacement powercat hull shape.
The CS Hull with its canoe-sterned underbody with a square transom on the water's surface and fine forward entry angle, has become the signature of Malcolm’s powerboat designs and has been adopted by many.
The New Yorker spawned a host of large and small power catamarans and made the CS hull shape the defacto design for displacement powercats around the world.
Over the 45 years of Malcolm’s career, a steady stream of designs have left the office, with more than 270 designs at last count—ranging over the whole multihull gamut—have issued from this office, from small racing craft and folding trimarans up to large passenger carrying ferries and ocean-crossing private motor yachts.
Malcolm had a lifelong passion not only for boats but for learning the ‘why’ behind everything in life with interests that stretched in many directions. It was this thirst for knowledge that always caused Malcolm to look beyond first impressions and to see what aspects of the design really contributed to its success or weakness and to build this into the next vessel.
Malcolm was always willing to share his thoughts on design with interested people and got great enjoyment from passing on the knowledge of his experience to all who would listen.
Malcolm passed away after an accident at his home in Auckland on the 10th of May 2008, while pursuing another of his hobbies, gardening. He slipped and fell from a retaining wall and suffered a fatal head injury. Malcolm died in hospital several hours later.
He will be sadly missed by all his family, friends and by many people in the industry. It was one of Malcolm’s great pleasures to hear from people with his designs, about their adventures and experiences afloat.
I am sure there can be no greater tribute to Malcolm than that his designs will continue to be enjoyed the world over.
Tony Stanton is a principal in Malcolm Tennant Multihull Design Limited in New Zealand.