I am a novice sailor .....
My main concerns are:
-safety (of course)
-ease of handling as I'll be by myself on parts of the trip
Pete, you're scary. You are a novice, you will sail by yourself, and you don't know the boat yet?
If that is the equation, I agree with tager
: Get a small boat - stretch to 26ft if you must - and reserve a good chunk of your budget for easy, comprehensive navigation aids - charts, GPS (plotter?), and comms (VHF/SSB). If you are as inexperienced as you say, the risk is just too high that you'll find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not find yourself at all.