Martin, yours is a fun question to tackle - hopefully, you''ll get lots of replies.
Let''s assume by "big water use" you imagine perhaps crossing the Gulf Stream and getting a bit deeper into the Caribbean, or bypassing the wavy ICW channel and sailing offshore up or down the Eastern Seaboard. Perhaps even a cruise to Bermuda (you don''t say but I''m guessing you''re on the East Coast) or a visit to the Channel Is. and a winter cruise in Mexico if you''re on the Left Coast. The point being to imagine a boat that must hold together for at least a few days of really tough weather in offshore conditions, and sails well & with reasonable comfort (for a 22-27'' boat). Given the above, here are a few thoughts:
1. You won''t find your answer in ''a'' book and, in reality, will struggle to get a conclusive answer - a short list of ''for sure'' candidates - from any book. There are a number of books to help you, including the boat reviews published in two volumes by Practical Sailor (www.practical-sailor.com) but they suffer from several problems. First, they tend to be somewhat regional in nature since the writers ''know'' about the boats they most often come in contact with. Second, we Americans lack a good sense for European boats unless they''ve had a successful U.S. distributorship for many years. Third, much of what you will read is ''dated'' in the sense that it''s written from an earlier perspective (not ''bad'' per se, just incomplete), offers no current reality about price and/or condition of a given boat, and in fact may cover boats that never enjoyed a significant production run & are therefore difficult to find. Digging into a few such books would be one useful task; just don''t expect conclusive results.
2. You talk about a purchase price when, most likely given your blue water aspirations, that expense will be dwarfed by a refurb/upgrade effort needed by any older boat -or- you''ll find candidates already upgraded that are most likely priced to reflect it. You can find boats in your price range, to be sure - but how many will be ready to endure big winds either offshore or in a remote anchorage? My point is not to discourage but rather to encourage you not to overlook the ''total'' cost involved.
3. You seek the assurance of "boats (which) are built with quality materials and hardware" but, more often, true trust in a boat comes from its main components rather than its hardware, while the materials used in smaller production boats are pretty generic. I''d be looking for a well-designed & built rudder, well-built hull, sound integral ballast, and a well-engineered deck/support structure, including a decent mast step, plus a sensible rig and spars for your ambitions. Hardware can be replaced and little is actually needed on a basic boat, which is what you seek. "Systems" - those goodies we all seem to covet and spend so much time debating - will be almost non-existent. You need a boat which was originally constructed in a fashion that promises strength and longevity, and that is relatively comfortable given the size constraints.
Everyone will have their favorite boats to recommend: listen not only to what they are but also why they are being recommended. Fond memories of a first family cruiser might be nice, but was the boat used by the recommender in a fashion similar to what you plan?
Were I looking for your boat, I''d probably include an Albin Vega in my search - many transocean passages and a few circumnavigations to its credit, well engineered and also well built, in your price range, and with a very functional layout. Re: the criteria I mention above, it lacks an adequate mast step (the original one can be supplemented at little cost), sails on its anchor more than a cruising boat should (as will many others - use a scrap of riding sail back aft) and will require upgrading and a careful look at its components to the same extent as any other boat in your category. A good summary of the boat''s capabilities and few weaknesses, along with a comprehensive outfitting guide for the Vega, can be found in Log of the Mahina by John Neal, available for peanuts from Amazon. We cruised one of these as a family of 3 for several years along the Pacific Coast and found it a remarkable sailing boat and very functional. And it lacks the gargantuan interiors so common today, which is one reason it was so capable but which may put it at a disadvantage in the marketplace.
Good luck on the search; sounds like fun!