What makes a good family cruiser boat?
T, your simple question is deceivingly difficult to answer since a portion of it lies within the nature of your family and what you are seeking from the experience of owning a boat. But there are some criteria worth mentioning that you should or at least could keep in mind as you discuss this more and shop boats to try on your ideas.
1. Two very young children as ''crew'' will mean someone quite often will be required to have the ''Kid Watch''. And I can speak from experience when saying it''s no fun if the same person gets this duty all the time...so for starters, you''ll want a boat that is easily handled - by either of you - and sails without fuss. This may be in conflict with your husband''s desire to have a ''racer/cruiser'' (he may have his eye on racing the boat locally) as such boats often have multiple trimming options that a simple ''family cruiser'' sloop won''t have, and such a boat may be less forgiving when trimming gets less attention by the single crew member who''s also navigating a bit, steering and trimming the sails full-time, and trying to sneak below to fetch a Coke out of the fridge. This may also argue for a boat that is smaller rather than larger. (It doesn''t speak to any specific boat choice, but I''d put an autopilot at the top of your ''extras'' list).
2. Kids love to be outside when the weather cooperates. This may mean standard add-ons for any boat (e.g. a good awning if the summer sun is intense where you live), but it also means you should look at the cockpit carefully. E.g. a mainsheet traveller bisecting & spanning the cockpit, often found on boats set up to race, is just an impediment and tripping hazard to young kids wanting to spread out their toys, watch what''s happening in the anchorage, and/or playing in the water in a partially filled cockpit well after you''ve stuffed the scuppers with corks. In short, think ''lounge'' for all of you and ''playpen'' for the kids when looking at the cockpit.
3. Kids can sleep thru nuclear war, so *needing* separate sleeping cabins may just result in a boat layout that, for its length, is broken up into more separate spaces and therefore not as visually or physically spacious and comfy. There is no such thing as privacy on a 30-40'' boat, just the illusion of it via visual privacy...nor do you really need it given your short periods aboard. Better to turn the one decent double berth cabin over to the kids and you two use the settees, which allows you to stay up later, lets them sleep in later in the morning, and gives them a large play area (the berth) with their toys nearby when it''s raining.
3. If you agree with this logic, you''ll soon discover that many comon boats on the market today (Catalina, Hunter, etc.) lack two straight settees in the main cabin that allow adults to lie comfortably and have a good snooze. Perhaps an easily converted dinette double will be an option. If you live in a region where the summer is hot & humid, you''ll question the wisdom of those ''aft cabins'', which are usually shoveled under the cockpit and are adjacent to that hot engine you used when motoring into the anchorage or dock.
4. Talk with your husband about the local area and and how that should influence your boat choice. E.g. secluded anchorages or easy access to shore, for the benefit of family cruising, might dictate a shallower draft or a boat with a centerboard (altho'' he might want ''deep'' draft for racing reasons). Think about the ideal place(s) to berth the boat in season, and whether that might limit your length or beam if you want a slip to be easily found. (We had a great family experience in a smaller marina with an active kid''s summer program only because our boat had a relatively narrow beam and so could use a slip others couldn''t consider. We didn''t look much at marina choices when making a boat choice, but it would have been wise to do so).
5. Realize that you may spend an additional 20% of the initial boat''s cost in equipping it, unless you buy used and find a good match between your needs and the previous owner''s outfitting choices. This too may suggest smaller than what you otherwise would prefer...but with weekending and short vacations as your primary family activities, a smaller boat is a reasonable choice. After all, if you have a roomy dink the family can pile into, you may be ashore exploring more and on the boat less than you think.
6. These issues don''t speak to any specific boat choice but are just examples of the kinds of things you''ll want to keep in mind as you talk over your preferences. But if sailing turns out to be, for your family, a great experience, then there''s one especially valuable thing your two kids can potentially get from the experience that''s worth keeping in mind: a love of sailing. And that is likely to happen more easily if your boat is fun to sail. So don''t overlook that quality when thinking diaper and toy storage or galley layout.
Good luck on your research. I think you''ve got some potential for conflict in your choice, between racing capability your husband might want to have and the recreational needs of the family. Don''t underestimate the value of talking this through and spending lots of time walking docks and looking at boats, as you knit together your desires into a collective view of what will be best for all of you.