Re: ASA and clubs?
Lou, I'm in the same boat (metaphorically) as you. I wouldn't necessarily discard the option of signing up on a race boat. Not all skippers are shouty, but it may take a little asking around to find the more easygoing ones. And don't worry too much about the first race you show up to. Most skippers already have dedicated guys (and gals) for trimming, foredeck (spinnaker, sail changes etc.) and sometimes even helm. More often than not, the new guy gets used as weight on the rail, to try to reduce heel.
That said, even as rail meat, I learned an awful lot just by being around those guys, both just by listening, and peppering the trim guy and the skipper with questions once we were set up on a reach. So long as you move when the skipper says to do so, and how to do so, he isn't going to have much of a reason to yell at YOU, personally.
Anywho, sorry for the ramble. TL;DR version: I prefer cruising, but I've learned more about sailing in a few races than I have in an entire season of puttering about.