Don't go beyond your budget and be unable to afford to go anywhere - that is why you want a yacht, isn't it? If it's a new boat, look at the standard equipment package. Does it include everything you need, or will you have to spend a lot more on essential cruising gear? You may have to budget up to 20% on top of the basic price for what you consider to be essentials. If it's a second hand boat, the general recommendation is that you allow 50% of the purchase price for a refit and extra equipment. Survey cost may also be a consideration if buying second hand. With any boat, take into account mooring or berthing fees, winter storage and ongoing maintenance costs.
GRP: The majority of cruising yachts in use today are of GRP construction, and with good reasons. GRP is strong, long lasting and easily repaired. There is a big difference in thickness of GRP layup between earlier boats and some modern lightweight cruiser-racers, however. Osmosis may also be a problem - if the vessel has the dreaded blisters it will undoubtably be cheaper than an unaffected specimen - but how much will it cost to fix the problem? (One school of thought says don't worry, no boat has ever sunk due to osmosis).
Steel: Steel seems like a good idea - it is by far the strongest material if in good condition - steel boats have been run firmly onto reefs and recovered with a few scratches. No material is perfect, however, and with steel rust is the enemy - all surfaces must be kept thoroughly painted, and a tatty looking boat may be hiding a few problems. A thorough survey is probably a good idea. Other downsides - many are home-built, so the standard of finish will vary a lot, and there may be condensation and magnetic problems. Steel construction is usually only used for boats of 30ft LOA or more, as it is an inherently heavy method of construction. Small steel boats may be sluggish performers in comparison with their GRP or wood counterparts.
Aluminium: Aluminium is rare in the everyday cruising market, but is a popular material for the construction of top quality professionally built custom yachts. Be aware of potential areas of concern in yachts constructed by amateur or inexperienced builders in the shape of possible galvanic problems when different alloys are used, not to mention welding problems. If you are contemplating buying an aluminium boat, make sure you know as much as you can about this method of construction or take someone with you who does.
Wood: Most traditional of building materials, wood still has a lot going for it. If it is the right kind of wood, it can last as long as any other material - but the ongoing maintenance costs are undoubtedly higher, particularly in terms of time if you do your own painting and varnishing. Many classic cruising designs were made initially in wood and then in GRP and a wood version can be very affordable while the GRP equivalent may be out of your price range. Compare, for example, prices of the Vertue (wood) and her successor the Vertue II (GRP). A good example of the wooden version of this superb pocket bluewater cruiser can be had for less than half the price of a good example of the later GRP Vertue II. For wooden voyagers, the teredo worm is still a problem in the tropics - sheathing or very regular antifouling is essential.
Ferro-Cement: Concrete boats have been around for a long time, but caught the would-be cruiser's imagination big time in the 70s. Although a cheap method of hull construction, many ambitious projects were abandoned when the builder realised that he could never afford to fit out the monstrous hull he had created, or even get
it to the sea. Done properly, this is a very strong and satisfactory method of construction. First choice has to be a professionally designed and yard-built boat from a yard with a good name for ferro construction, but a professionally designed and amateur-constructed boat can also be a sound purchase. In ferro more than any other material, research is recommended and impulse buying discouraged. You could usefully begin your research at 'The World Of Ferro-Cement Boats'
Traditionally, cruising yachts are long in the keel and narrow in the beam. This supposedly ensures a seakindly motion and good stability. It also makes for limited accommodation and a possibly wet ride to windward. Here as everywhere else it is a matter of personal preference. My advice, for what it is worth, is to go for a design that has been widely proven in the conditions you want to cruise in. For bluewater cruising in smaller boats traditional design has a lot going for it in terms of documented achievements, but all sorts of boats are out there doing it right now.
Most popular choices are sloop, cutter or ketch, in that order. The sloop has the virtue of simplicity, while the ketch and cutter rigs split the sail plan into more easily managed areas. A ketch can sail under mizzen and headsail alone, while a cutter rig may offer a simple twin headsail downwind option, with the inner forestay handy for a heavy weather sail. The sloop will be slightly closer winded. Again, it depends on the cruising you intend to do and the number of crew you will have. Junk rig may look weird but it has a lot going for it for the singlehanded or short handed sailor - easily and progressively reefed, with fewer control lines and an unstayed rig. If your intended purchase has a sail plan you are not familiar with, then an extended trial sail in various conditions would be ideal - although not always possible.
As regards sail control systems, most boats have furling headsail systems nowadays, but many cruisers still like the option of flying a hanked on headsail if necessary - as a storm sail or if something goes wrong with the furling system. A cutter rig is a natural choice, but the babystay on a sloop is ineveitably too far back to be any use. Some cruising sloop owners fit an occasional second forestay which is permanently attached to the mast and attached to a strongpoint on deck when required. A tensioning device - ideally quickly operated by lever - is used to achieve the necessary tension. Again, this may be useful for flying twin headsails downwind.
When it comes to mainsails, in mast or in boom furling has become popular - but these systems add to the cost and can go wrong, and in-mast furling adds weight aloft and increased windage under bare poles. Slab reefing is simple and effective, and would be our personal recommendation. A few older boats may still have the old-style boom roller reefing where the sail is rolled round the boom. It is probably a good idea to budget for fitting slab reefing in this case.
Most of all, buy the boat you can afford, and get out there and do it. If you wait to be able to afford your ideal boat you may never get her.
That's a joke - there's no 'and finally' for this subject. I could say a lot more on construction, on gear and fittings, on surveys, finance and maintenance - the best advice is, get more advice! Look through the relevant sections on this site, follow links, use search engines or leave a query on the bulletin board . and feel free to with queries or suggestions for further information you would like to see available here