Competitiors in the Devizes to Westminster canoe race were champing at the bit to get away from Devizes Wharf this morning after the start was delayed because of the discovery of a body in the canal.

Canoeists from all over Britain had been arriving at the Wharf from 5am for the scheduled start at 7am but because the body had been found in the canal just 100 metres or so from the start line, police asked the organisers to hold off sending canoeists through.

Eventually, chief umpire Guy Dresser announced that the race would begin at 9.30am.

First away was 71-year-old former soldier from Burbage, Bob Norbury, who is competing in the single kayak section to raise money for Armed Services charities.

Mr Norbury, who will become the oldest person to have completed the DW challenge if he successfully arrives at Westminster, said: “I’ve asked if I can be first away as I will be so slow, everyone else will pass me.”

Mr Norbury wore a sign on his back reading: “71-year-old Knacker. Please pass.”

As the new start time approached, crews assembled on the water close to the start line and once Mr Norbury had been flagged away by town mayor Pete Smith, starter Sally Peake was almost overwhelmed by the rush of canoeists eager to be off on the 125-mile route to Westminster Bridge.

Coun Smith said: “I can’t imagine doing what they’re doing. I think they are amazing. I wish them all luck.”

The competitors leaving today, junior doubles, singles, junior/vet combinations and Endeavour crews, will all break their journeys overnight at allotted camp sites along the route.

Tomorrow, the senior doubles will leave the Wharf. They will be paddling non-stop and will leave according to the optimum time they hope to reach the River Thames, where the tide will aid their race to the finish. The course record still stands at a l5 hours 34 minutes, set in exceptional conditions in 1979. A more realistic record was set in 2010 of 17 hours 30 minutes.

Most senior doubles contestants will be happy to finish within 24 hours.

Among those leaving tomorrow will be Sydney Olympics rowing gold medallist Ben Hunt-Davis who entered the DW a couple of years ago.

He said: “We made it to Reading in 2012 and that was it. Matt Parish and I have been paddling together since September and working very hard on becoming paddlers, not rowers who paddle.”