We watched the Emmy award winning Hornblower series after seeing Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe, and found it at least as good, if not better an experience.
The acting is excellent all around, and the production values are top notch. They apparently filmed on an actual frigate for the production (which is why they aren't making more; too costly).
The DVDs have historical and behind the scenes info, and we learned a bit about life in the british navy from it. Apparently rum was integral to the operation of the Navy. I would believe it considering they grabbed people from bars and forced them to be sailors for years at a time.
Ioan Gruffudd and the other actors bring their characters to life over the course of the fictional Hornblower's life from low ranking ensign to Captain of his own ship.
If you are looking for a good period piece in the 18th century British navy, this is an excellent series.