That sounds like a good plan Kenif.....
Sigh, I have made the mistake of looking at US boat listings before. With the free trade arrangement, and our dollar nearly reaching parity with the US$ at one stage there it wasn't such a silly idea. Sure that pesky Pacific Ocean presents one hell of a shakedown cruise. There is actually a guy who posts on here that bought a US boat and sailed it across.
In reality however I think it is beyond my experience at the moment, we'll start with the East Coast and go from there....
Sorry, I was away and so missed this thread back when you kicked it off. Congrats on the decision to head out cruising!
Also sorry you missed on that Arends 33. I don't know if it was the one you were considering, but I glanced at an ad for one in Aus and it looked like a nice solid candidate for your itinerary.
As far as boats go, I'll just echo the comments of tdw about looking at the North American market. There really are a tremendous number of good candidates over here, at prices that seem discounted compared to Aus.
Since you have some doubts about full-keelers, you might look at the offerings from Pacific Seacraft (PSC). These U.S.-built cruising boats have cruising fin keels with skeg-hung rudders, and the propeller in a protected aperture. We sail a 31, but the next model up in size, 34', might be worth comparing to some of your boats down under. If nothing else, it's a good data point.
You can do a Yachtworld search and see a bunch of PSC 34s. They have been in production since the mid-80s, so prices run the gamut and they are sprinkled all over the U.S. east and west coasts. Boats from the late-80s-early-90s should be in your price range. Here are a few examples:
1990 PSC 34, Great Lakes
1990 PSC 34, California
1989 PSC 34, Georgia (U.S. East Coast)
Anyway, all the best of luck and keep us posted!
P.S. Howdy, Hartley! How about some photos of that project?