The advice posted so far is sound (except I'm not sure about the matrix thing). I'd just add a couple observations:
1) Get and read a copy of John Kretschmer's new book Sail A Serious Ocean
. (I don't get a commission for recommending this - hint, John!) In it, he describes many of the best historical cruising designs in all size ranges. You might evaluate those boats for your needs and then look them up on Yachtworld.com, or any of the used boat
sites and see what the prices look like. Also go look at them, get on them and get a feel of what's out there.
2) It sounds like you're going to take all your mates with you - so there will be 4 or 5 people on the boat. If so, you batter all agree that whatever boat you buy will work for all of you together (and all your gear).
3) GET AS MUCH SAILING EXPERIENCE AS YOU CAN. Join a yacht club or sailing club in your area (many clubs have junior membership
levels that are less costly). Get into the club racing
is a great way to learn sailing technique and get on a lot of different boats. Even if you can't join a club - you can usually find a clubmember looking for crew. Talk to as many people as you can - one thing about the sailing community - we're not short on opinions!
4) Plan to start cruising on the coast where help and parts
are readily at hand. Once you've mastered that, then head offshore
. If you can't master that, you won't master the bluewater either.
5) Use the time that you're saving for the boat to get has much experience as you can, even to the extent of investing some of your boat savings in formal training. I grew up around boats all my life, but never knew what I didn't know, until i took a master's course!
There's probably 50 or 60 more suggestions, but this, and the other posts should be a good start. Good luck to you .