Hi Kim -
We use a wind generator and solar panels... big ones, on the hard dodger roof (they can go other places). You can run the lights and a cold plate refrigeration system with that and in less-windy times you run the engine a couple of hours every couple of days. You can talk with your engineer (um, assuming the guy working on the pipeline is the engineer in the family -- if it's you, that's even easier!) about refrigeration systems, there are several ways to go. Chances are, though, that you will be buying a used boat (absolutely the best way to get something more spacious for your family without spending half a mill), and that boat will probably be equipped - whether you keep what's already in there is up to you, depends on what it is. A refrigeration compartment in the tropics should have about 4" of high-R insulation around it, usually a form of foam.
Cooking should probably be propane, the locker for the tanks will need a low-point external vent. Boat we are buying was used in marinas, so they had installed all-electric -- we will have to revert the galley to propane stove since we will live on the hook mostly once we are off.
Boat type: Last time we went as a couple, for a year and a half in the Caribbean, on a 36' fiberglass ketch. We loved it. But now we have a child, and our boat choices reflect that. We will do our homeschooling in the salon (some folk say "saloon"), and you, too, will want to look at the physical layout to be sure you have room for people to move through necessary areas while a small group is set up at the salon table: a catamaran is ideal for your purposes, IMO, since the salon is out of traffic and there is more "room" for the length.
The advantages: More space for the length and less heel. Space! Light! Wow! Means privacy, too, at least three private sleeping areas and possibly more depending on your layout. Less heel: not having to lash everything down or put it in the sink when underway. You still can, in case you like being prepared for everything :-) Speed! That means greater safety: Catamarans are faster than monohulls of the same length, typically, and this can make the difference between trying to ride out a tropical storm or hurricane and simply running across the oncoming path to avoid one. We're doing the same basic route we did last time, but over three years (that's the Plan), and with the shoal-draft capacity we can see more -- like the Berry Islands in the Bahamas, or the shoal areas near the Dry Tortugas. Another safety feature: we can get RIGHT IN to a manglar to tie up in case there's a hurricane, in water much "thinner" than larger-draft vessels.
Drawbacks can be (different for different models): lower load-carrying capacity for the length (her great advantage in speed will suffer heavily if she goes down on her lines due to overloading), can pound (waves slap annoyingly into the boat between the hulls, forward) when going to weather (slap/pounding depends on ratio of central clearance to hull separation, among other things), and width -- if you have to go into a marina and have a REALLY wide catamaran, you will be very limited in terms of where you can tie up and they are likely to want to charge you more. There are catamarans that will fit in a normal slip, you might want to check that when deciding what to buy.
Kid care and shopping: if you are in an anchorage with a lot of other liveaboards, you will find that the VHS is crackling with people organizing shopping trips, inviting others to sundowners, etc. You being a friendly and outgoing mom/couple will probably find that you make friends all over the place, and finding some other moms or even dads who will rotate kidsitting with shopping opportunities is likely.
Last edited by catamariner; 06-22-2010 at 02:28 PM.
Reason: shorter paragraphs. More great cat advantages! :-)