Hope this is the right place to post this. A little background. My wife and I are new to the hobby/lifestyle of sailing. We are looking to start enjoying the water. We are still very new and very dumb with sailing so please bear with me and us on the stupid questions.
Where we are in this process. We are wanting to start out on Lake Lanier here in Atlanta and eventually get out on the open water. We are wanting to do overnight and weekend trips now and hopefully transition to living aboard in a few years or so. So we are thinking of 23-30 foot. I'm thinking fixed keel so we won't have to upgrade immediately to get out onto open water. Obviously a head and galley area are kind of important. I'm tall (6'3") but am not overly concerned with height as i'm somewhat accustom to watching my head but I don't wanna have to crawl on my knees. I'm thinking sleeping 4 as we would probably eventually have the in laws or other couple coming with us some. A wind direction indicator of some sort, GPS and depth gauge are a bit important I think. A way to cook will be somewhat important too but I think a portable grill can suffice for the time being.
Ok, so dumb questions:
1) what is the problem with buying a boat that's been on the dry for a long time? I know there are a lot of seals and stuff that can break down, but I'm thinking structurally. I can repair just about anything (my other hobby is woodworking) but I do understand there comes a point where fixing something is just not worth it. I understand the cost vs value issue. That's why I'm looking at structural issues and such.
For a fiberglass boat it's probably not too big a deal if the boat has been out of the water for several years. However, there may be blisters on the hull that will only become apparent again once the boat has been soaking for a few months. Also, if the boat has been sitting for a long time, it has probably also been neglected. Rain water, termites, rodents, raccoons, et cetera, can all take their toll.
2) What issues to look for on a boat? I know to look at the hull integrity, keel damage, rudder issues, chain plates and and soft spots in the deck etc. But what kind of things are really deal killer type things? Like some soft spots may not be as bad as others, right?
I would steer clear of any boat with deep blisters in the hull, severe rot in the interior wood, severe metal corrosion, or any obvious structural damage. It's a buyers market right now, so you don't have to commit to a project boat to get a pretty good deal.
3) inboard vs outboard? Pros and cons? Is there a rule of thumb of some sort on the size of the motor to the size of the boat? Diesel or gas? Does it really matter or is it a tree hugger personal preference thing?
It's somewhat a matter of personal preference, but the trade-off point for outboard verses inboard is about 27 feet, give or take. Less than that and an inboard just takes up too much room; larger than that and an outboard will cavitate too much as the boat pitches in larger seas. Also, above about 10hp outboards are basically too big to man-handle back into the lazarette, and leaving an outboard sticking off the stern while sailing just looks wrong, dammit.
A diesel inboard in a larger boat is really the only sane choice (that should get the discussion going). Diesel is far safer in an enclosed space than gasoline, and modern diesels are incredibly reliable and efficient. On a smaller boat a gas outboard is the only real alternative, if you want to have any storage space at all. Diesel outboards are so few and far between that they really aren't an option.
4) Any specific features to look for?
I would look for something with decent-sized bunks, and a big enough cockpit to allow you to stretch out and take a little nap, or even sleep under the stars on a nice night. An enclosed head with a holding tank large enough to last at least a weekend is nice. Other than that, I would try to keep things as simple as possible on your first boat. A handheld GPS and paper charts, a cheap fish finder, a basic VHF are all the electronics you'll probably need. I would also avoid getting a propane stove in favor of a non-pressurized alcohol unit.
Look for a basic sloop rig (or maybe a catboat), nothin' fancy. A roller-furling headsail is nice, but not an absolute necessity. Don't worry about a spinnaker and its associated do-dads until you get some experience, and even then they're often only worth the trouble if you're racing. On a smaller boat don't worry about lazy-jacks, et cetera. If you get something less than about 24 or 25 feet, I would make sure the mast has a tabernacle so you can work on the mast when necessary, as with that small a boat you probably won't be able to climb the mast anyway.
Hope that gets you started.