One of America’s Finest Old Houseboats

October 2020 News Gary Kramer Web Exclusive

Sometimes the best thing to do is get right to the point. The point here is that it is highly likely KV Dahl III's 1976, 40-foot Harbor Master called the SS Dahlfin is one of the finest old houseboats in the country. In addition to that point, there is an interesting twist to this story that we will get to later.

Making that statement may be going out on a limb but if you don’t agree after looking at the photos and reading the long list of upgrades and improvements, we would really like to see a boat you think challenges this assumption.

When we first profiled this boat in our September 2006 issue, we were highly impressed with what had been done to it at that time and the shape it was in. Now, 13 years later, we are even more impressed.


To fully understand this boat's pedigree, it is important to know a little history about the owner and his family. Since 1911, the Dahls have owned many car dealerships. KV's grandfather, Kenneth, Sr., was an original member of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida so the entrance mat in the cabin is from there.

KV's father, Vinje, has long collected antique and vintage cars and he and KV now own over 100. Their expertise with these vehicles is such they are both licensed by the Cuban government to hold seminars about the preservation and restoration of these vehicles and have done so there over the years. That is why KV jokingly lists Havana, Cuba as the boat's home port and flies a Cuban flag, in spite of what he thinks of their government.

Besides this history, there are two other factors that contribute to the condition of this boat. One is the rigorous and on-going maintenance. The other is the repair or replacement of structural, mechanical and cosmetic components.

Fixing It Up

KV bought the boat in 2003 and by the article in 2006, here's what he had done.

The boat was first thoroughly buffed and then got three coats of wax. The flybridge seats and dash were re-upholstered with yellow piping to match the original color. New gauges were installed there and a bright yellow Bimini was added.

New front cushions got the same treatment and the decks got fresh yellow paint. The windows were given a mirror finish that reflects sunlight. It took several trips to multiple RV shops before he found rubber molding for the windows that matched.

The wooden rub rails were replaced and painted. New color coordinated registration numbers and the boat's name and home port were added.

The 351 Windsor engines were overhauled and during that process, they found some transom rot so it was re-built. Then he added a dog-friendly swim platform.

While working on his dad's cars as a child, KV had learned the importance of details so he shopped several hobby stores until he found the right colors to rejuvenate the Harbor Master name plates and some nautical flags on the cabin.

He had yellow and white cruising invitations made complete with a picture of the boat. Yellow napkins, plates cups and drink coasters all have a drawing of the boat, its name and hailing port.

He still has the first car he owned and figured he was going to keep the boat forever so he based all his plans on the long run as he continued to update and improve after 2006.

Since the article, new gauges were added to both the upper and lower stations and the wiring was replaced.

The entire top deck was skinned, the old insulation was removed, then new framework and insulation was installed before the deck was re-fiberglassed and painted. A new rooftop air conditioner completed the work.

Below decks, the Windsors were replaced with Jasper re-manufactured engines and the transmissions were re-built. New throttle and shift cables went in. Some stringer damage was found so they were replaced. He had earlier replaced the original 7.5 generator then decided to go bigger, so installed a new 10 kW genny.

A new aluminum swim platform went on and new, matching ladders to the top decks were added.

Inside The Vessel

Inside, about the only thing original is the paneling, which he likes. There is new carpet, new window treatments, new TV's, and a new full-size refrigerator. Besides the paneling, he has kept the original yellow color because he feels it is a “happy color.”

KV is happy to acknowledge he is a “clean freak” and to that end, the boat has been washed weekly since he bought it. It sits under the same covered slip and gets its bottom painted and a buff and wax job annually. There is even a 'no-shoes' rule for both the decks and cabin.

Even the bilge gets cleaned twice a year by a process involving a shop vac, a degreaser, a toilet bowl cleaner mounted on a long handle and then a repeat of the steps.

It is probably fair to say the boat is better than new and some folks might refer to it as a work of art, not to mention an incredible labor of love.

Finding The Right Buyer

But as we mentioned earlier, there is recent twist to this tale. And that is that KV has now decided to sell the boat. He doesn't use it like he used to so is looking for the 'right buyer' with the same degree of passion he has who will continue to take good care of it.

Finding interested buyers for a boat like this will probably not prove to be too difficult. But he feels finding someone to continue his long term labor of love with the same amount of time and money will probably be harder to find.

Let the shopping begin.

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