My sources with respect to CACIQUE (3) indicate the ship was constructed in 1918 by the Bethlehem Steel Co. in Elizabethport, New Jersey, with the name GARFIELD, was renamed NOSA CHIEF (rather than NOSA SHIEK) in 1929, and renamed CACIQUE in 1935. See http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com/history/shipyards/2large/inactive/bethelizabethport.htm and scroll to hull number 2116. But her name between 1929 and 1935 is, of course, immaterial for our purposes.
As to deserting a ship, it could mean a number of things. In this context desertion means only that a merchant seaman wasn't aboard his ship when the ship left the pier. It could have been unintentional or accidental. He left ship, ended up in a bar, had too much to drink, and wasn't conscious when the ship departed. He found female companionship and couldn't tear himself away soon enough. He left the ship to take overnight lodgings and overslept. He got lost on his way back to the ship. He lost track of the time. He forgot where the ship was berthed and went to the wrong pier. The ship departed earlier than he expected. (These are all theoretical possibilities; I don't mean to cast aspersions on your grandfather.)
Or desertion could be deliberate. He didn't like one of his shipmates or officers to the point he decided he did not want to continue the voyage. He believed the ship was unsafe or unseaworthy. He felt he was being taken advantage of or wasn't being paid the amount he expected. He decided to stay ashore in the city in which the ship had docked for whatever reason. There may be many other reasons, all of which again are theoretical.
A merchant seaman, upon first arriving aboard a ship, signs "articles" with the company owning or operating the ship. That is to say he signs a contract for the duration of a voyage, specifying the length and destination of the voyage (if known), the shipboard position he will hold, his pay, and other conditions of employment. (At the end of a voyage a merchant sailor is "paid off," drawing his pay and receiving documentation of his employment for that voyage, the contract is terminated, and the seaman is literally unemployed until he "signs on" another ship.) So by deserting, a merchant sailor is guilty only of breaking a contract, a civil violation. (By contrast deserting a ship on the part of a U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard sailor would be treated much more harshly, since it would be considered a criminal offense under military law. Navy and Coast Guard personnel do not sign articles but instead are assigned to a ship by direct order.) At least in peacetime, desertion is probably not a good thing for a merchant seaman, of course, if only because it might come back to haunt him later. On the other hand it is probably not be a career-ending action. (Desertion is wartime might be considered much more serious but that was not the situation with your grandfather.) Since we don't know the particular reasons behind your grandfather's desertion on the one occasion, it's impossible to judge the matter. Clearly, since your grandfather sailed for many more years and held positions of responsibility aboard ship, it may not have significantly affected his maritime career.
You are fortunate to know your grandfather's Z number, since that would be an invaluable piece of identifying information if you contact the U.S. Coast Guard to obtain his service record, as I mentioned in my earlier message. Since the card you have indicates his service began in November 1942, and since we know he had was a merchant sailor at least by 1930 and probably as early as 1924, the 1942 card may be a replacement card. Nowadays merchant seamen must renew their documents every five years but I don't know what was required in the 1930s and 1940s. But it may suggest a break in his service as a merchant mariner.
Interestingly, I find a Clarence Boudreaux in the 1940 U.S. Census, age 34, living with his wife Mae (age 32) and children Rose Mary (age 10) and Clarence Jr. (age 3) at 2028 Palmyra Street, New Orleans, where the family had lived since at least 1935. His occupation is listed as a mechanic for a bus company. If this information matches what you know of your grandfather's family, it may indicate that he had shore-side employment for some period of time and therefore a break in his merchant seaman career.
You have learned that your grandfather was a nice guy and someone's hero. He was also, during the war, a brave man. They all were.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster
Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website