Dennis, I think you provided the fundamental answer to your own question:
"My feeling is that we would be better off with a cutter rig
with slab reef main, furling jib
and hanked on staysil."
I can appreciate that it may ''feel'' a bit stodgy to hold that preference when you see all the furling
hardware popping up on both retro-fitted boats and new boats everywhere you turn...but IMO it''s a functional preference you are holding based on your sailing plans, and which is also based on what I would describe at this point as a good backdrop of prior experience. Few of those hardware-intensive boats are going where you want to be able to.
You may simply have to shop a bit more until you find what you''re looking for. And don''t forget that adding an inner stay is a reasonable job to take on, should an otherwise suitable boat show up without such a feature. In your preferred boat size especially, being short handed, you''ll definitely want an inner stay. I added a Solent Stay because it was simplier than the staysail stay seen in the U.S., but Solent Stays are very common here in Europe. I found the job easily done by myself with some forethought and research.
To try and close the apparent gap a bit between Jeff''s view and mine on the relative fallibility of mainsail furling
systems, I think one reason we hear about/see differing levels of system failures is that we''re drawing on the experiences of different audiences. I can''t think of a group of folks that are forced to deal more with system failures on boats than delivery skippers. For every rich owner and gold-plated cream puff that needs to be moved, there is a boat that''s been used, not looked after, and now the owner chooses to replace effort and care with money, sticking the delivery skipper with the headaches. I principally run into boats being sailed by owners and, when they face the kinds of ocean work we''re all discussing, they are more motivated to attend to their hardware. It doesn''t make mainsail furling
systems inherently bullet-proof, but it does lower the odds a bit.<g>
BTW and FWIW and so forth, you''ve ended up describing boats that sound somewhat hardware intense, and which may be priced noticeably higher (and require a bit more maintenance) than the simplier kind of boat you express an interest in. I''m not sure if that''s the result of brokers pushing more expensive boats or you being attracted to the extra gear, but I do want to mention that if you own the boat long enough, you might in the end appreciate systems that are more manual (assumming they are adequately powered and properly serviced). I think you were saying that, but the boat choices seem to tell a different story...
Good luck on the hunt!