These “what makes the best…” discussions are better than the Rorschach ink block tests for revealing the psyche of the responders. “Blue”, “coastal”, “mill pond” water definitions are in the eye of the beholder and the chances of getting two people (let alone three) to agree is nigh impossible.
Reading this thread, you’d think sailing a Catalina in anything other than a Texas cattle pond would be suicidal. I’ve been in two ISAF Ocean Category 2 races (both were double handed!) so far this year. The Coast Guard had to perform rescues in each, but oddly enough, neither involved a Catalina. I’ve even taken Mrs. B out in 40kts back in March (both of us had to be back at work the next day) with no ill effect. A prudent sailor must be able to know what conditions he can or cannot safely sail in and perhaps my experience gives me an added advantage in sailing in heavier weather whereas a less experienced skipper would feel more comfortable in a bigger boat.
Weather forecasting is apparently easier for the Pacific region than the Atlantic. My experience is the five day GRIB is pretty accurate, seven day is O.K. and 14 day is so so. Heck, the five day NWS and NOAA forecasts are pretty much right on too. So if you define “coastal” as being no more than three to five days away from safe harbor then you ought to be able to pick your window and a Catalina (or even a Bene) should be up to the task. My little 34 has fuel tankage for forty hours and sufficient water for over a week (depending upon crew size) which puts it in that “costal” range.
Would I sail my C34 down to Cabo or PV? You bet! I have friends who have spent the past year in the SOC with their C34 and enjoying every moment. Would I go across the Gulf of Mexico? Why not? Sail to Bermuda? That’s like going from SF to LA out here.
To find the perfect boat you need to turn inwards and make an honest assessment of what your goals and plans really are. Folks talk about the Southern Ocean all the time but 99.99% of them never venture off the continental shelf. Nothing wrong with that at all. Land, with all of its ports of call is infinitely more exciting than endless ocean. If you don’t believe me, read the blog of the nut job who’s goal is to float around the world’s oceans for 1,000 days. If your (realistic) plan is to do the Intercoastal, Bahamas, Carib, or Mexico and you buy a boat capable for the Southern Ocean, chances are you will have overspent. You also need to be honest about your personal capabilities and risk tolerance. For example, companies like Island Packet have a profitable niche selling to first time cruisers (or wanabes) who are a bit unsure of themselves and have a very low risk tolerance.
Now, for my own ink blot test. I am perfectly happy in my Catalina. And unless the stock market rebounds in a very big way, Freya will be my retirement boat. I dream of the isles of the South Pacific, but, knowing Mrs.B, Mexico is in my realistic future. I see my boat as being on (roughly) even par with Beneteau’s First Series. Their Oceanus Series is pretty, but I think pretty pedestrian performance. I like the Farr designed Beneteau 40.7 but can’t stand the interior. If only they would come out with a 40.7 with an Oceanus inspired cabin. I thought that the Sabre 40 we raced against in the Pacific Cup had pretty good performance but was very disappointed in the workmanship on the one we looked at last winter. Quarter million was way too much for a boat that was a mass of spider web cracks topsides and the stress cracks emanating from about a quarter of the T-track bolts. Mrs. B actually liked the C400 better, but I cannot warm up to the cockpit or aft stateroom layout. The C42 is also on my short list and is pretty fast, considering that it is as dainty as a Mack truck.
I actually do sail in heavy weather conditions from time to time (and so does my camera boat!)