... Also, from what I've read about the incident, there was no one on watch on-deck. If they had had someone on watch, the person on watch may very well have heard the surf breaking on the rocks in time for them to do something. The amount of background noise in moderate conditions in the Southern Pacific is probably quite low.
I recommend watching the CBS video -- regardless of what you think of the skipper, his wife is a babe. The film indicates the older boy was on watch, and that they had just changed the watch so he may not have been totally oriented to the situation and may have lacked night vision. (I know, you don't take the watch til you're ready, but he's 15 remember.) I had a look at the island on Google Earth and like most atolls the sea floor goes from thousands of fathoms to nothing in a couple hundred yards. At 7-8 knots that's a minute or less. The reef was down wind and sound doesn't travel up wind all that well. I doubt very much you'd hear it until it was too late to do anything. Also, bear in mind that this is not an inexperienced crew. They had sailed +/- 6000 miles to that point. That's probably about the point where you think you're doing pretty well and the guard comes down a bit. It was about that point on my experience curve that I hit a charted rock at six knots -- so I know it can happen to even an experienced sailor who gets careless for a minute or two. That said, this was obviously not just a careless "minute or two", but a gross failure to plot their position on the paper chart and replot a course after the maintenance evolution took them off their initial planned track.
I think the real story is not hitting the reef (and as we all know, sailors who hang out on keyboards all winter never hit reefs). The great part of the story, IMO, was how they all performed after disaster struck. With less presence of mind the skipper would have bled out in minutes. The kids saved their father, the wife got them all off the boat and out of the surf. The local family performed the initial rescue. The French did their part -- and remember that the French SAR forces had no idea what the nature of the emergency was and so their reluctance to risk life and limb with a night rescue was probably the right call.
Let's take it for what it is -- a story with a happy ending. I don't know that I'd buy the book -- she's a real estate broker not a professional writer, and from the looks of their house she didn't write the book for the royalties. Nor should we, IMHO, go to great lengths in second guessing those who were on the scene and in the sh*t. The skipper paid for his mistake -- he lost his boat and one leg. I, too, thought the "medal" was a bit OTT, but in the video, the skipper looked a little surprised and embarassed by it all.