In 1907, the Desert Laboratory wanted to observe and record the process of re-vegetation at the edge of the Salton Sea in California. But they needed a boat to do it.
Godfrey Sykes removed himself to the shore of the Salton Sea, taking along only some light camping gear and a box of carpenter's tools. Pretty soon he had built a stable skiff with a sprit-sail, and the studies commenced. They lasted fifteen years, during which Sykes built other boats in the Boathouse, some kayaks and one with motor power. He mapped the region and studied the accumulation of silt in the delta of the Colorado River.
He was honored for his scientific work by the Royal Geographical Society of England and the American Geographical Society.
Godfrey Sykes could figure out how to do anything, and do it superlatively. When he and his wife decided to give up living in a tent at the base of Tumamoc Hill, he taught himself stone masonry and built his family a home. The result still stands at the base of the Hill.
During World War I, Sykes helped to develop the gas mask used by British Empire troops throughout the war. In return, he received full membership in the British Society of Mechanical Engineers.
But the skill he acquired as an 83-year old man stands apart. Having lost his leg, he fashioned a wooden leg for himself from Ponderosa pine. Then he redesigned and remade his automobile so he could drive using only one foot pedal.
Godfrey Sykes died in Tucson at age 87 on December 23, 1948.