I looked at this in detail last year, though I was looking at purchasing a yacht on the west coast of Mexico.
•cruising in general
That's a very broad question. Suggest you browse this website, in particular check out posts by SimonV a couple of years ago as he purchased a yacht in San Francico and sailed accross the Pacific. Also an excellent book is "The Voyager's Handbook" by Beth Leonard.
•ideal boats to look at (limited budget but not paupers - budget ~$150k for everything)
My budget was also around $150k and the breakup was (note all Australian$ and one person only)
Boat search costs $5k
boat prep $30k
boat prep living costs $5k
6 mths living cost $22k
import duties / fees $12k
Therefore with a total budget of A$150k my guess is you are looking at a total boat cost of around US$50k. That means a yacht under 40ft and / or over 20 years old. I was looking at a Tayana 37 over 25 years old.
Suggest you check out the Cruising boat list
. Note that a lot of boats listed will be over your budget.
•items that are 'essential', 'nice to have' and 'waste of space/weight' when fitting out
This will be a very long / variable list. My "essential" list included:
- Between 34 & 40ft
- modern keel & separate rudder
- Sail Area ratio above 15
- sloop or cutter rig
- no or little wood on exterior
- boom at safe height
- aft cockpit large enough to lay down
- doghouse / dodger
- permanent shading in cockpit
- lots of solar panels
- aft "tight" head
- "nice" front cabin (wife's opinion)
- at least 2 good seaberths
- L or U shaped galley with sink on centreline
- newish eng, under 1,000 hours
- reliable systems
- autopilot (primary & sec)
- charging / batteries
- fridge / freezer
- no low points / 6 ft access throughout
- navigation station with comfortable seat in rough weather
- refrig that does not pump hot air into cabin
•other preparations (getting Radio Operator, Yachtmaster course, celestial navigation? etc.)
Radio operator's lic is a must. Probably good idea for your wife to do a Yachtmaster's course (otherwise start reading up on singlehanding sailing
). Would not worry about celestrial nav, instead think about a weather course.
Feel free to PM me if you have any detailed questions.