In my sailing area there are a lot, and I mean a bunch, of charter boats. The skill set of the captains can vary wildly. I was swapping stories the other day with a friend and the subject of witnessing dropped/bent/lost boat hooks came up. Between the two of us we believe we have collectively seen more than 50 boat hooks prematurely meet the end of their useful life. We then started trying to figure out how old our boat hooks were. Yes, the mind wanders while enjoying rum!!! The two boats I've owned each had a boat hook, or two, on them at time of purchase. I've never actually bought one and if somebody told me my current boat hook was 20 years old, I wouldn't be surprised.
So not only do you remember your first bucket, but do you remember your first boat hook? Mine looked like hell and got caught by a whipping jib sheet but somehow didn't fly off the boat. It was still on the boat when I sold her.
What makes it special? It came with the boat and cost me nothing additional. There is another spare stored below so I don't worry too much about losing it.
Is it fixed length or extendable? Extendable on this boat, fixed on previous.
What are the oddest things you've done with it? Caught a topping lift that was flying around wildly in rough conditions high above the deck. Used it to pole out a genoa on a nearly windless day. Used it to retrieve some sunglasses that fell overboard despite having a neck strap attached in water that was about 8' deeper than I was able to free dive. Snagged the handhold on a dinghy I found floating free and slowly towed it with the boat hook until I could get a temporary painter rigged for proper towing.
What have you used, or seen used, in place of a boat hook? I've seen mops, gaffs, whisker poles, anchors, buckets, fishing gear and an emergency tiller. My all time favorite was watching a guy who dropped his boat hook, chase it down as it drifted away before sinking and then held his young son by the ankles to drop him over the side to grab it. The misses was quite vocal in her displeasure of the entire event. Just when I think I've seen it all...