Dean - I'm still learning all this stuff just like you. But I'm starting to form a more solid opinion on this based on the research I've done and the various boats I've sailed on thus far.
First, the term "bluewater" is fairly specious I think - at least as used in these arguments. As has been said many times, and proven many, many more times in the briney...virtually all modern boats (the ones we typically talk about here anyway) can cross oceans. The line of division in these arguments, therefore, typically comes down to these 3 things:
1. The "comfort" of the boat in seas. And this seems to typically come down to the hull design (deep, heavy and slow versus flat, light and fast).
2. The stoutness of the boat in a storm.
3. The tankage, stowage, and layout of the boat.
So, do you get a Tayana 37 or a Bene First 38? Do you get a Hans Christian 41 or a Hunter 40? A Pacific Seacraft 37 or a Dufour 375?
You really should take a look at PCP's "Interesting Sailboats" thread as mentioned previously. Great stuff in there.
For me the bottom line is that I will purchase a faster, more modern boat that is nice and roomy below. That is because I know we do (and will continue to) spend the majority of our time hanging out on the boat...at anchor in a cove, sleeping on it at a marina while visiting some place, etc. - than doing huge passages. And we want that experience to be comfortable. And we can deal with the other stuff while sailing.
Now, what does this mean in relation to the above parameters?
1. We may very well pound in some conditions. Of course, you can pretty easily remedy this if you change your point of sail - and sail more conservatively. But the beauty is that, when headed downwind, we'll scream along and leave all those heavies in our wake. Then we'll drink all the beer in the anchorage before they get there 3 days later. Occasional pounding? Meh. I'll take the beer.
2. I've been reading the Bumfuzzle's blog. It really is interesting stuff. These people were absolutely clueless when they started a circumnavigation on a production boat they knew nothing about
(though they are very smart and resourceful). Bottom line is that they sailed around the world, knowing nothing, and never had to deal with a serious storm. Part of that was luck - but part of it was never having a schedule, and never wanting to chance it too much. If they started out of a harbor and it was blowing 30, they'd turn around and anchor again and wait for a few days/weeks until it lightened up. Add to this all the feedback I've gotten from great books like Hal Roth's, and something becomes clear...big storms at sea are rare. And boats, even production boats, are incredibly resilient. You just have to be prepared and be extremely conservative when a storm hits. The odds are pretty good that the boat will survive it (if you keep the water on the outside) - and so will you (if you can stick it out). Granted, with a newer, more lightly built boat, you may have a whole bunch of stuff that breaks - but it will most likely get you through. To that end, you should look up the posts of WD Schock on this site. He was talking about this very thing in this thread:
Production Boats and the Limits
That dude is THE REAL DEAL. I'm not.
3. Tankage, stowage, etc. are problems that can be overcome based on how many you have on the boat and how far you want to go. For example, a water maker can greatly reduce your need for fresh water tankage. And lee cloths/boards can cure many ills as to sleeping in a seaway. Finally, stowage in most modern boats is actually pretty good. So I've always thought this argument was iffy. Other things like handholds, etc. can be remedied pretty cheaply as well.
So, depending on the weather and your idea of comfort - I personally think any of the major production brands are both capable and suitable for sailing virtually anywhere. But I also think you need to be a bit more conservative in relation to what you take them out in (conditions, time of year, region, etc.) - simply because they are built more lightly.
Bottom line, I'm not personally afraid of production boats. At all. They fit how we're going to sail. Others will prefer going slower in a tank that they feel more secure in. That's cool too. There are many of all kinds of boats on the ocean floor...production and otherwise. And there are many, many more of all kinds of boats doing just fine and having a blast sailing...production and otherwise.
(PS - here's another great discussion related to all this: A blue water sailer that can go in light winds