RE: Newbie Advice
My impression reading Pascoe's stuff is that he provides a lot of excellent information but he is very, very biased and often makes blanket negative statements about a particular make or model that, while they may be true for individual boats, are not necessarily true across the entire make or model line. So I view Pascoe as one good source of information but not the be-all, end-all source that some people, particularly him, feel he is.
If you bump your size envelope up to 30-32 feet or so, that opens up a number of good possibilities. One of them, as has been mentioned before, is Bayliner. I'm not all that familiar with their product lines but they made some nice cruisers in their "88" model lineup. They seem to have made these in a number of lengths over the years: 3288, 3388, 3488, 3588, 3688, 3788 and the list apparently goes on. I have no idea what the "88" stands for, but while they appear at first look to be planing-type boats it's my understanding that they are not. They are fairly efficient cruisers. A few years ago we met a couple with a 3488 and they had taken this boat to SE Alaska and back several times and were having a wonderful time with the boat. I am very familiar with the Bayliner jokes and reputation, but I think these have more to do with their owners than with the boats themselves. Bayliner discovered something a lot of other manufacturers probably wish they had, and that was how to make a line of boats with a wide market appeal at prices that a wide market segment could afford. So you tend to get a lot of newbies in Bayliners, and I think that's where the reputation really comes from. Bad operation, not bad boats.
Yes, their small, entry-level trailer boats are nothing to write home about in terms of quality and reliability but their larger boats, from everything I've heard, are quite good. And any boat, even a Grand Banks or a Fleming, can become a piece of junk if it's neglected or poorly maintained.
Bayiiners had/have a huge dealer network--- I've seen them on the Danube River in Austria and on the Seine in Paris--- so decent used ones are most likely available in every part of the US. I believe there is at least one sizable Bayliners owners forum on the web, so I would think it would be pretty easy to learn quite a bit about a particular model you might become interested in.