THEY say you need patience to fish. And it turns out they’re right. Half an hour into my Antiguan deep-sea fishing trip and I’m considering throwing in the towel. We’re about three miles off the coast of Curtain Bluff, on the south coast of the Caribbean island, dragging five baited lines behind us, and nothing has happening. Not even a nibble.
Four miles … five … six … the rocking of the boat as it slices through the waves throws me from side to side, yet somehow I can feel myself nodding off, drifting below a clear blue sky, fluffy white clouds shrouding the volcanic island of Montserrat far on the horizon.
I blame jet lag, but the previous night’s Caribbean fantasy cocktails – a potent mix of rum, pineapple juice, coconut and grenadine – may have something to do with it too.
Then, suddenly, I’m being jolted awake by the sound of the engine slowing and a line being tugged. Still drowsy, I stumble into action, patience paying off at last.
Perched on a chair at the back of the boat, rod firmly in a well between my knees, I clutch it tightly and reel in my prey inch by tortuous inch as it splashes about helplessly on the end of my hook.
A silver fish about a foot and a half long, with a pointed nose and fierce-looking teeth, glares at me with glassy eyes before being swiftly, inexplicably tossed back into the deep.
Barracuda, I’m told later. A nasty old fish, apparently, they are eaten by the locals but tend to be very bony and can even be poisonous. And since we’re planning on catching tonight’s tea, that’s a handy thing to know.
On we sail, a few more miles out, when the boat begins to be circled by flocks of frigate and tuna birds, cawing and swooping excitedly. It’s a promising omen and, sure enough, a few minutes later, I’m reeling in a 2ft-long skipjack, heavy as hell, streaks of electric blue scales gleaming in the sunlight.
It puts up a brave fight, my tuna. Even once it is planted, face down, in a bucket of ice, it continues to thrash around angrily for several minutes, blood and icy water splashing on my naked toes.
It dawns on me: I just killed a thing. The guilt, though, is tempered by the knowedge that later we will be dining on the finest, freshest tuna, caught by my own fair hand. I am inordinately pleased with myself. The guests at Curtain Bluff won’t go hungry tonight.
However, I hadn’t actually come to fish. I was here to play tennis. A complete beginner, I had been tempted by the presence of Tracy Austin, former US number one, one-time world number seven Johan Kriek and former ATP pro Taylor Dent. If they – and the rest of the team of on-site pros at the resort – couldn’t whip me into shape, no-one could.
Over five days, for four hours a day, balls fly into the bushes, into the fencing, into the clubhouse. But as I learn to hold the racket correctly, to control the ball and to piece together tactics, tips and tricks of the trade, it’s astonishing how much I improve.
The course is not aimed at beginners, of course. There are others who are much, much better players than I am. And the chance to win a point off Tracy Austin or Taylor Dent – who, you may remember, set the record for the fastest serve ever at Wimledon in 2010 with a speed of 148mph – is worth the plane ticket alone.
So now I am a tennis convert. And a fishing convert. I’ve been snorkelling, kayaking, waterskiing, banana boating – all are included (private tennis coaching costs extra) as part of a stay at Curtain Bluff. They like to call it “luxury all-inclusive”.
When Howard Hulford spotted the scrap of goat-grazing land from the air while working as a private pilot, he vowed he would have a home here. The Antiguan authorities refused their permission for a private property, but told him he could build a hotel instead. So he did, a 72-room complex of low-rise villas scattered over two beaches that all benefit from a warm family atmosphere, a feeling of belonging to something special.
Hulford died four years ago, but his widow Chelle still invites guests into Bluff House, her home on the hill, hugging the cliffs, for cocktails or, when we visit, to watch the yachts sail past as part of Antigua Sailing Week. Or, most touchingly, to present celebratory plates to mark returning visitors’ tenth, 20th or even 50th year as guests.
There is a policy of not locking rooms at Curtain Bluff – management prefer guests to feel as if they are in their own homes, free to go to the beach or to dinner without worrying about where they put their key.
Nor do they encourage tipping. Instead, guests can contribute to the Old Road Fund, named after the town just outside its gates. Started in 1974 by the Hulfords, the fund has so far gifted $1 million towards providing university scholarships, sending local children to the US for summer camps and providing medical and emergency relief to the local community.
It is Old Road that is at the heart of Curtain Bluff. But go further afield and you will see an island of contrasts – the lush greenery gives way to a more rocky, barren side in the south-east (Eric Clapton has his enormous villa spread over 45 acres at Standfast Point), while it’s also worth a stop-off at Falmouth Harbour, home to some of the most breathtaking yachts you are likely to see in several lifetimes.
And at Shirley Heights, Nelson’s old look-out, turn up on a Sunday and part with $8, then spend the night dancing to steel bands, drinking Carib beer and drinking in the view.
• A seven-night Perfect Match: Tennis & Wellbeing package with Annabel Croft and Andrew Castle (16-23 November) costs from £2,728 per person on an all-inclusive basis, including transfers, at Curtain Bluff (0800 051 8956, www.curtainbluff.com). Tennis clinics, tournaments, a spa treatment, catamaran sailing and a cookery class are included.
Contact the hotel for prices for the Fantasy Tennis Camp with Tracy Austin, Johan Kriek and Taylor Dent (30 April-4 May 2014).
Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770, www.virginatlantic.com) flies three times a week from London Gatwick to Antigua, with return fares from £621 per person.
Antigua Sailing Week (www.sailingweek.com) takes place 26 April-2 May 2014. To charter a boat for the event, contact Global Yacht Racing (www.globalyachtracing.com). The cos, including full training and a professional skipper, is £1,450.