I need to learn the difference between boats. Is this a matter of fundamental design and specifications, or merely equipment?
Fact is, most boats can probably take more than most people, but if you're doing mostly daysailing harbourhopping, or passages rarely more than a night or two long then pretty well any well-found production boat will do, esp, as wing-n-wing suggested, you pick your weather windows.
Boats considered 'blue water' or serious offshore boats will be better suited for long passages, trans-ocean type of sailing. One of the main requirements here besides serious structural integrity is adequate storage for food, water and gear. These boats tend to be on the heavier side, both in construction and displacement.
Loading down a mid to lightweight cruiser/racer with enough food/water to sustain a crew to Hawaii, for example, can seriously impact the performance of the boat until some of the heavy stores are consumed. Sailing solo some of these issues are easier to deal with as you'll need less.
Buying a boat already there makes sense except that you won't get the boat-owning experience you want in the immediate future (which would stand you in good stead once you set off - there's nothing like truly knowing your boat)
If you're thinking the ICW and maybe Bahamas then another major consideration is going to be draft, I believe over 5 feet can limit your options in the islands. However you can certainly follow that path with a boat that would not be considered 'blue water'...
As you can see, nothing's simple....Do lots of reading and research early on, and do join that club and get some experience on the water... you'll find your way I'm sure!
Here's a link to a google search on hull/keel types - should be some worthwhile browsing here: